European body urges Government to reconsider judicial Bill

Fine Gael Senator describes legislation as an ‘insult to legal profession’

 

The Government has been warned that its controversial Judicial Appointments Bill is not in line with European norms.

A report by an anti-corruption Council of Europe body has expressed concern about the move to create a judicial appointments commission with a non-legal majority and a lay chairperson and has asked the Government to reconsider the provisions.

It call for the State to reassess the issue “in order to limit potential risks of improper influence from the executive/political power over the appointment process to the judiciary”.

The report has been prepared by the Group of State against Corruption (Greco), and submitted to the Government but has not yet been formally published.

The report states that “Greco has significant concerns about the composition of an appointments commission” which “would place judges in a clear minority position in favour of a strong lay representation (including the chairperson) accountable to parliament.

“This is not in line with European standards – which in situations where final judicial appointments are taken by the executive calls for an independent authority drawn in substantial part from the judiciary to be recognised to make recommendations or opinions prior to such appointments”.

Attempts by the Labour Party in the Seanad to prevent the Bill being debated until the full report had been published were defeated in a vote on Tuesday night.

Being steered through the Oireachtas

The Bill has been championed by Minister for Transport Shane Ross but is being steered through the Oireachtas by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and is in the Seanad after passage through the Dáil.

On Wednesday in the Dáil Labour leader Brendan Howlin highlighted concerns about the legislation expressed by Greco.

Mr Howlin noted that in the Seanad on Tuesday that Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had said he had not read a report submitted by Greco to the Government on the proposed changes.

The report was highly critical of the changes and asked that the State reconsider the changes.

Mr Howlin said it was “highly unacceptable” that the Dáil had already considered the Bill and the Seanad was currently doing so in the absence of the report.

He renewed his party’s call for debate on the Bill to be suspended until the report was published and everyone had an opportunity to “read in detail the analysis by an important international body that is tasked with fighting corruption”.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he had read the report and would bring it to Cabinet on Thursday and could be published then.

On Wednesday night in the Seanad a Government Senator described the Bill as an “insult” to the legal profession.

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone said that she would at the end of the day “obey the Whip and I will vote with a heavy heart for a lot of this”.

She said she was sorry to “speak negatively about a Bill that my own Minister is putting forward” but she felt it was “an insult to the profession of which I’m a proud member”.

Ms Noone, a practising solicitor, took particular issue with that requirement “particularly when it comes to the idea that it must be a non-legal chair”.

She added: “If it could be either that would be fine.”