Ross’s judges Bill is worst legislation in 30 years - Shatter

Former minister for justice says ‘bizarre vanity project’ is worse than a ‘dog’s dinner’

Alan Shatter: “This is mad stuff.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Former minister for justice Alan Shatter has described Shane Ross’s Judicial Appointments Commission Bill as the most defective piece of legislation he has seen in more than 30 years in national politics.

Mr Shatter, a former Fine Gael TD, said the Bill was a “bizarre vanity project” for Mr Ross that played charades with the judiciary in an inappropriate manner.

Mr Shatter excoriated the legislation when he spoke at an event organised by the Dublin Solicitors Bar Association last week.

The controversial Bill was included in the programme for government at Mr Ross’s insistence and is now nearing completion of its passage through the Oireachtas. Mr Ross has said the Bill is necessary to end what he has said is cronyism in judicial appointments.


Mr Shatter, who has himself been a thorn in the side of barristers and judges in the past, said he agreed with reform but this was not the way to do it.

“The Bill does not meet the essential public interest criteria to positively improve the administration of justice. It is a vanity project for Shane Ross,” he said. “It is a very sad day that the Fine Gael party in government is going along with the Shane Ross perception of the judiciary.

“It is quite a bizarre and shocking example of bad legislation. I disagree with the Attorney General [Séamus Woulfe’s] description of it as a dog’s dinner. This is not a meal that anybody would serve up to a dog they love. It does not even get to the standard,” he said.

Biggest quango

Among the Bill’s defects, Mr Shatter contends, is the sheer size of the commission, with 17 members, calling it the biggest quango in recent political history.

He said the Bill also provides for unelected and unaccountable “consultants” who will be brought to help vet suitable candidates, adding another layer of cost and bureaucracy.

Mr Shatter also claimed that the Bill, as currently drafted, would allow for members of the commission to be paid a fee for their work, including the presidents of the Circuit Court and the District Court, as well as the attorney general.

He said the recommendation sent to government would include three names, sometimes of sitting judges, but they would be ranked from one to three. Mr Shatter said this could be unconstitutional.

“I question the capacity and desirability of sitting judges being graded by a committee about who should be number one or who should be number two in terms of appointments to the higher courts, he said. “There could be a constitutional infirmity there.”

Mr Ross has insisted that the commission should have a lay (non-legal professional) majority. Mr Shatter said it seems the committee provides for eight lawyers and eight non-lawyers. The criteria for selecting the 17th member, the chairperson, were not in any way clear, said Mr Shatter.

He also said he was concerned the lay members would be recommended by the Public Appointments Commission, which in his experience had mixed results in identifying the best candidate for a position.

“This is mad stuff. We are not talking about a committee to run the playground here. This is the judiciary,” he said.

Mr Shatter was a TD in the same constituency as Mr Ross but lost his seat after the constituency was changed to the three-seater Dublin Rathdown in 2016.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times