The Irish Times view on the Judicial Council: getting there

New guidelines on judges’ conduct and discipline cannot come soon enough

Chief Justice Frank Clarke, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys and Judicial Council secretary Kevin O’Neill at the launch of the council’s annual report for 2020 at Green Street courthouse in Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland

Chief Justice Frank Clarke, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys and Judicial Council secretary Kevin O’Neill at the launch of the council’s annual report for 2020 at Green Street courthouse in Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland

 

When a new judge is appointed, he or she receives an office and little else. There is no training, no induction course and no formal guidance on how to approach one of the State’s most important roles. Administrative support is minimal. And because there is no system for disciplining judges who misbehave, an office-holder cannot be reprimanded unless their behaviour is so serious as to warrant impeachment.

This lack of both support and accountability structures has long been a glaring problem. It was acknowledged 25 years ago, when the first proposal for a Judicial Council emerged. Successive governments put it on the long finger. For a time, judges themselves slow-walked the process. So the formal establishment of the council in December 2019 was an essential if belated step in improving the functioning of the judiciary and buttressing public confidence in it. As the council’s first annual report shows, useful early progress has been made on the production of draft guidelines for personal injury cases and the establishment of a sentencing guidelines committee.

One of the most closely-watched strands of the council’s work will be that of the Judicial Conduct Committee, which must agree a regime for handling complaints about judges. This lacuna came into sharp relief last year during the fiasco over the attendance at a golf dinner – and his subsequent handling of the fallout – by Seamus Woulfe, a Fine Gael activist who had just been appointed to the Supreme Court. That saga culminated in Chief Justice Frank Clarke urging Woulfe to step down. With the Oireachtas baulking at the idea of impeachment, there was no way to deal with the controversy that would ensure natural justice while addressing the damage to the judiciary as a result of public anger it generated.

The new guidelines are to be considered by the board of the council this week. They cannot come soon enough. And, when they are agreed, there should be no delay in formally activating the parts of the legislation empowering the new conduct and disciplinary structures to begin their work.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.