New three person committee to consider chief justice selection

New system approved at Cabinet meeting will be seen as a sop to Shane Ross

The cabinet has decided that a three-person committee, comprising a lay person, a judge and the Attorney General, will consider who should be appointed to the role of chief justice.

The current chief justice Susan Denham, will retire in August after six years in the role, and 25 years as a judge of the Supreme Court.

New legislation governing judicial appointments, which has been vigorously promoted by the Minister for Transport Shane Ross, passed its second stage in the Dáil last week but will not become law until the autumn at the earliest.

The ad hoc system for the appointment of the new chief justice was approved at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting in Government Buildings after the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan brought a memo to the meeting. It is likely to be seen in political circles as a sop to Mr Ross after his disappointment at the slow progress of the Judicial Appointments Bill.


Under the Constitution, it is the Government which nominates any judge for appointment by the President. However, there is no legal bar to the Government taking advice from any outside body on the nomination.

A spokesman for the Minister for Justice was unable to say if the committee would forward more than one name to the cabinet for approval. Some legal sources have suggested that any process which forwarded only one name would be unconstitutional, as it would effectively appropriate the cabinet’s function in the nomination process.

In a statment later Mr Flanagan said a non-statutory advisory committee is being set up to invite and consider expressions of interest in the post of chief justice.

“The Advisory Committee will mirror the proposed arrangements in the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 and will comprise Ms Jane Williams, the chairperson of the Top Level Appointments Committee; Mr Justice Sean Ryan, the President of the Court of Appeal; and Mr Seamus Woulfe SC, Attorney General.

“The Advisory Committee will be required to establish its own procedures for inviting and assessing the expressions of interest from applicants.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times