Judicial appointments body to have lay majority and chair

Plan to go ahead despite lobbying by legal profession and FF refusal to support lay chair

The Government is to proceed with plans to appoint a lay majority and chair to a body which will appoint judges in future despite intense lobbying against the move by members of the legal profession.

Legislation on the judicial appointments commission has been completed, and is to be circulated to Ministers by Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald within two weeks.

Government sources confirmed the body would have 11 members, including a lay chairperson.

The Chief Justice, the Attorney General and either the president of the Court of Appeal or the High Court will be the three main legal figures on the commission.


A practising barrister nominated by the Council of the Bar of Ireland and a practising solicitor nominated by the president of the Law Society of Ireland will also be on the commission.

Five lay members, including a representative of victims’ rights and human rights groups, will make up the body.

The positions will be advertised and recruited through the Public Appointments Service.

Three names

The judicial appointments commission will be asked to select three names for each vacancy on the bench, and their recommendations will be sent to Cabinet for final approval.

The legislation was due to be published at the end of January, but was delayed due to lobbying from the judiciary and others. However, Ms Fitzgerald has agreed with Minister for Transport Shane Ross the shape of the Bill.

The proposals are significantly different to what was proposed in a Bill moved by Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan. He proposed a similar appointments body but with a majority of the members to be from the legal profession and with the Chief Justice chairing it.

His party has insisted it will not support the measures by the Government if there is a lay chair. Government sources claimed Fianna Fáil was doing the bidding of the judiciary, and insisted there would be no change to the proposals.

There is currently a block on all judicial appointments until the new system is put in place.

Judicial vacancies

There are currently seven judicial vacancies across the court system, including two in the High Court following a retirement and the appointment of Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh to the General Court of the European Union.

There is also one vacancy at the Court of Appeal, one in the Circuit Court and three at District Court level.

The two arms of the legal profession are divided on the measures, with solicitors rowing in behind the controversial proposals.

The Bar Council, which represents barristers, is in favour of a judicial appointments system that would have a majority of lawyers or judges on the proposed new appointments commission, to be chaired by the Chief Justice.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors, supports the lay majority model proposed by the department.