Michael McDowell: Lay body for judicial appointments ‘futile’

‘Foolish illusion’ the organisation would be made up of people who do not know how courts work

Michael  McDowell said he had no problem about a body assessing people and making recommendations to government bu such a body should be ‘expert’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Michael McDowell said he had no problem about a body assessing people and making recommendations to government bu such a body should be ‘expert’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Former justice minister and attorney general Michael McDowell has described the proposed lay-majority body for judicial appointments as “futile”.

It was a “foolish illusion to consider that this kind of advisory body is best composed of people whose primary identifying characteristic is that they do not know how the court systems works on a day to day basis,” he said.

Mr McDowell said the policy was being driven by Independent Alliance Minister for Transport Shane Ross on the basis that judges exercise their powers and were appointed “on the basis of cronyism”. But Mr McDowell said this was not true and “seems to create a problem that doesn’t exist”

He said Mr Ross was “effectively demanding a change in the way the government approaches the appointment of judges based on a personal agenda which is not representative of what has happened in the past and which is not true”.

The Judicial Appointments Bill is due to be debated in the Dáil this week, and has been sought by Mr Ross since the Government was formed last year.

The Bill would reform the way judges are appointed, introducing a new appointments board with a majority of non-lawyers and a non-legal chairperson.

The former tánaiste said a minority of people on the proposed commission would know something about the administration of justice. “But the commission will be chaired by a person and will have a majority of members who are chosen on the basis that they have nothing to do with the administration of justice. That is entirely wrong.” he told Today with Cormac Ó hEadhra on RTÉ Radio.

“You need professionals to do the job. We need the best judges and we need a body which is composed of people and chaired by a person which is going to produce the best suggestions to the government so the government can its own turn exercise its constitutional function in deciding who should be judges and shouldn’t,” he said.

Mr McDowell said he had no problem about a body assessing people and making recommendations to government. But he said such a body should be “expert”.

“It should know the calibre of the people it’s dealing with, it should know their reputation, know how they function, it should know their psychological traits, it should know whether they are up to, or not up to, the particular requirements of the particular court in which these vacancies occur,” he said.

Mr McDowell said the majority of people appointed to the courts during his time as both justice minister and attorney general “were people, who if they had political affiliations that were known, were not the affiliations of the two government parties”.

He said it was a matter for the government of the day to decide “if someone with socially very conservative views should or should not be put on the Supreme Court having regard to the views or general philosophy of the existing members of the court”. He said “those are decisions which the Constitution has entrusted to the government of the day”.