Government nominates judges as judiciary Bill moves slowly

Shane Ross wants reform of selection process as he believes bench is marred by ‘cronyism’

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: has clashed with Shane Ross on occasion. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: has clashed with Shane Ross on occasion. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Government agreed to nominate several more judges at its Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, filling vacancies in the the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court.

The names of the nominees will now be forwarded for official appointment by the President.

Three new judges have been nominated for appointment to the High Court including senior counsel Teresa Pilkington and solicitor Michael Quinn, while the Government agreed it would nominate Senan Allen to the court when Judge Patrick McCarthy moves to the Court of Appeal.

Ms Pilkington and Mr Allen are senior counsel practising in the Law Library in Dublin, while Mr Quinn is a partner in the litigation department of William Fry, one of the country’s largest firms of solicitors.

In addition the Government decided that solicitor James McCourt will be appointed to the Circuit Court on the retirement of Judge Michael O’Shea later this month, while solicitor Eirinn McKiernan is to be appointed to the District Court.

The nominations were made by the Government after it received lists of suitable candidates from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.

Difficult subject

Judicial appointments have been a difficult subject for the coalition Government, with the Minister for Transport Shane Ross blocking appointments on a number of occasions because of his frustration at the slow pace of new laws and procedures for appointing judges.

However, Mr Ross backed down on each occasion when told that the Government needed to appoint judges to ensure the smooth running of the court. The Independent Alliance says that it only considers judicial appointments on a “case-by-case basis”. It is understood Mr Ross was consulted before the names were brought to the Cabinet.

Government sources said Mr Ross was notified of the names ahead of other Ministers and could assess them before the memo was officially brought to the meeting.

However, in a statement that points to the underlying tensions in Government, the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan – who has clashed with Mr Ross on occasion – issued a statement pointedly referring to the fact that “since 2016 there has been 39 judicial appointments”.

Mr Flanagan said that the appointments “underline the Government’s commitment to ensuring that vacancies in the courts are filled in a timely manner so that the courts have all the necessary judges to ensure access to justice” – likely to be interpreted as a rebuke to Mr Ross.

‘Cronyism’

New legislation, which sets up a new commission to recommend judges for nomination by the Government, is making its way through the Seanad. The Government spokesman said it was intended to pass finally through the Oireachtas this week before the Dáil rises for the summer recess.

It needs to conclude there before it returns to the Dáil before Friday’s recess.

In his statement, Mr Flanagan said: “I note the good progress made in the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, which is currently in the Seanad.”

Mr Ross wants to reform the way judges are selected because he believes the bench is marred by “cronyism” and that politicians have been appointing “their friends” as judges for years. Judges have strongly rejected his repeated criticisms. Many senior Fine Gael figures are also incensed at Mr Ross’s attitude to the judiciary.

Mr Ross has accused lawyers of opposing the Bill in the Dáil and Seanad because it “disturbs their cosy way of life”.