Ireland only country in EU with no mechanism to discipline judges – survey

Ireland’s courts and judges enjoy among highest levels of public confidence in Europe

The Irish legal system is close to the bottom of several EU league tables of indicators of government commitment to the legal system.

The Irish legal system is close to the bottom of several EU league tables of indicators of government commitment to the legal system.

 

Ireland is alone in the EU in having no mechanism for disciplining judges and has the third-lowest number of women judges in the lower and middle tier of courts, according to a new EU Commission report.

Although the report shows Ireland’s courts and judges enjoy among the highest levels of public confidence in Europe, it finds the Irish legal system close to the bottom of several EU league tables of indicators of government commitment to the legal system.

The report shows Ireland has the third-lowest expenditure on the courts as a share of GDP (0.2 per cent, a third of Bulgaria’s), the lowest but one number of judges (3.33 per 100,000 population, compared with 43 in Croatia), and the third-lowest number of women judges in the lower and middle tier of courts (38 and 20 per cent respectively).

Ireland, however, records a one-third increase in per capita spending on the courts since 2010. And the number of Irish lawyers, at 262 per 100,000 population, sits squarely in the European median between Cyprus (443) and Sweden (58).

But the report, the EU Commission’s annual comparative Justice Scoreboard published on Friday, shows that public perceptions in Ireland of the independence of the judiciary at 64 per cent (fairly good and very good) rank the country eight percentage points higher than the EU average and fifth in the EU league table.

Of those, 83 per cent say they believe the status and position of judges guarantee their independence. Only 13 per cent say they are concerned over political or government interference.

Public trust

Levels of public trust in judicial independence throughout the EU vary from 18 per cent in Croatia to 87 per cent in Denmark, according to the accompanying Eurobarometer poll.

In Hungary and Poland, where populist authoritarian governments with strong electoral support have been accused of eroding the independence of judges, citizens appear to share significant concerns about the measures their governments have been taking to politicise their judicial system. 

In Poland, the subject of EU Commission Article 7 proceedings for rule-of-law breaches, only one in two of those polled had faith in their courts’ independence, with 72 per cent of those without faith blaming government or political interference. In Hungary, also in the Article 7 process, only 43 per cent profess to be unconcerned, with four out of five of those worried, blaming political interference.

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova told journalists that the scoreboard was an important part of the commission’s toolbox of rule-of-law measures, not so much “a ranking, as a guide”, a benchmarking aid to reform. She warned that “challenges to the rule of law are mounting” and insisted that they were a fundamental threat to the European legal order which was based on mutual trust between its various jurisdictions.

The commissioner said the survey did show some progress in the efficiency of the courts and the quality of their decisions. Among the specific issues raised by her were improved facilities for children and victims of gender-based violence, and increased transparency through the use of digital reports.

There have been significant improvements in the time taken to process cases, though Italy was singled out with the higher courts taking on average 1,299 days to resolve cases. It also has by far the highest number of pending civil and commercial cases at 3.9 per 100 inhabitants (Finland: 0.1) .

In EU trademark law the average length of time to resolve cases ranged from 108 days in Malta to 941 in Slovakia (just behind Ireland’s 841). Whereas in money laundering cases Ireland closed cases (364 days) in less than half the EU average.