The Irish Times view on judicial posts: losing its appeal?
The claim that the calibre of judicial applicants is in decline would need more rigorous analysis than we have seen
In a letter to the Public Service Pay Commission two years ago, but published only this month, the Association of Judges of Ireland said it was concerned with what its president, Mr Justice George Birmingham of the Court of Appeal, called “the quality of applicants” for judicial roles. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Irish judges are concerned about the calibre of people seeking to join their ranks. In a letter to the Public Service Pay Commission two years ago, but published only this month, the Association of Judges of Ireland said it was concerned about “the quality of applicants” for judicial roles.
Judges have some justified grounds for complaint over their treatment during the economic crisis. While it would have been intolerable for such well-paid public servants not to make a contribution at a time when so many lower-paid colleagues were having their wages cut, and while it was regrettable that not all judges signed up to a voluntary scheme the judiciary set up to donate part of their salaries back to the exchequer, the manner in which the government in 2011 went about the referendum on judicial pay fed into lazy populist slurs about a corps of judges who in truth have served the State very well. The cumulative effect of various cuts, including a change to pension thresholds that hit former barristers with private pension funds, was severe.
Notwithstanding that, far more rigorous analysis would be required to assess the merits of the bigger claim that the judiciary makes about the calibre of applicants for positions on the bench. The argument assumes the best-paid lawyers automatically make for the best judges, when there’s plenty of evidence to suggest many good practitioners are ill-suited to the role of judge.
Moreover, one would expect a certain fall-off in the number of applicants for superior court positions in particular, given that a glut of retirements, combined with the establishment of the Court of Appeal in 2014, have resulted in an abnormally high rate of judicial churn in recent years. There have also been some positive effects of that turnover: having more relatively young judges, and ones who are not necessarily rich – as many judges have been on leaving the Bar – makes for a judiciary that better reflects the people appearing before it. Any testing of the hypothesis put forwards by the judges’ association would have to encompass these considerations.