A flawed Bill on judicial appointments

Brussels says the Government’s plan falls short of European standards

The European Commission found that Ireland’s Judicial Appointments Bill did not conform to the standards Ireland signed up to in 2010, which specified that at least half the members of any judicial appointments body should be judges chosen by their peers. Photograph: Frank Miller

The European Commission found that Ireland’s Judicial Appointments Bill did not conform to the standards Ireland signed up to in 2010, which specified that at least half the members of any judicial appointments body should be judges chosen by their peers. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The Government’s decision to go ahead with the appointment of three new judges, despite the opposition of Shane Ross and his Independent Alliance, was correct. Ross’s attempt to hold the Government to ransom in an effort to get the widely criticised Judicial Appointments Bill through the Dáil should be resisted.

The Bill, a pet project of the Minister for Transport, proposes the establishment of a judicial appointments commission of 13 members, only three of whom would be judges. It would also have a lay chair and be accountable to the Oireachtas. The Bill has caused deep anxiety in the judiciary and has attracted criticism from the European Commission, which, in a report on Ireland earlier this month, said the legislation “would not be in line with European standards”.

The commission found the Bill did not conform to the standards Ireland signed up to in 2010 which specified that at least half the members of any judicial appointments body should be judges chosen by their peers.

At a time when judicial standards in some EU countries, particularly Poland, have come under severe criticism for departing from accepted norms of independence, it would be utterly inappropriate to compromise the judicial appointments process in this country. It is ironic that only last week High Court judge Aileen Donnelly deferred the extradition of a Polish national because of concerns about the rule of law there following changes by the Polish government in the system for judicial appointments.

The proposal to limit the role of the judiciary in the appointment of new judges even flies in the face of common sense. Serving judges have a strong incentive to appoint the best candidates, if only to ensure the workload can be spread evenly.

The Government needs to have a serious rethink about the deeply flawed Bill which is currently before the Oireachtas justice committee. It requires substantial redrafting to ensure that Ireland meets the highest standards of judicial independence.

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