Minister for Transport Shane Ross has rejected criticism by senior members of the judiciary to the proposed new appointments system, claiming they want to replace political interference with judicial dominance.
Mr Ross was responding to the contents of a letter sent by former chief justice Susan Denham and other senior judges to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the end of June criticising the new procedure.
The Minister told The Irish Times the judges’ hostility to the reforms was perfectly understandable. He added: “Vested interests rarely if ever welcome reform in their own area. The Bill specifically and intentionally includes the extensive input of judges and their undoubted expertise into all appointments.
“Judges will provide a substantial minority in the case of every single judicial selection. There are six lawyers on the 13-person commission. The objective of the Bill is to remove as far as is constitutionally possible the selection of judges from political influence.”
The proposed new procedure will establish a new judicial appointments board, with a lay majority and a lay chair.
This is being strongly resisted by Fianna Fáil and members of the judiciary.
In a letter released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, the country’s most senior judges claimed the reforms would create further political interference in how judges are chosen.
It is signed by Ms Denham, as well as Seán Ryan, Peter Kelly, Raymond Groarke and Rosemary Horgan, the presidents of the Court of Appeal, High Court, Circuit Court and District Courts respectively.
The judges said they would be “failing in our duty” if they did not record their concerns. The correspondence was sent at the height of controversy in June.
The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill has passed second stage in the Dáil and will be examined by the Oireachtas justice committee in the autumn.
It aims to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and create a new lay-dominated commission, headed by a non-legal chair, which would propose names to the Government for appointment to the judiciary. The Government would retain the final vote in the selection process.
In strong language, the judges say they took the “unprecedented” step of writing to Mr Varadkar because of their “firm belief that it is incumbent on us to state our clear view that the Bill, if enacted, will be harmful to the administration of justice which we serve”.
They further claim the Bill, which many in Fine Gael are uneasy about and which is opposed by Fianna Fáil, would damage the judiciary at every level.
It is also claimed the proposals had “not been the product of any independent analysis or report”; “do not accord with international best practice” and “do not follow the precedent or experience of any comparable jurisdiction”.
Mr Ross has insisted there will be no changes to the proposals by the Government.
However, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said the Bill is unlikely to pass in its current format.