Political patronage and judicial posts

 

Sir , – Thank God, for once, for such a measured critique of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2016, due to be debated in the Dáil this week. I am grateful to Dr Patrick O’Brien for his reflective reservations (“Judicial appointments – the system works”, Letters, June 21st). Let us hope the discourse in the Dáil matches such high standards.

Dr O’Brien’s constructive observations centre around the proud record of independence achieved by Ireland’s judges.

On the whole, he is right. With a few notable exceptions our judges have served the nation with independence and wisdom, in spite of the deeply flawed political system of selection.

Thankfully judgments have rarely, if ever, revealed any previous political bias from judges after their appointments.

That is not yet the problem, although it has an unhappy potential.

No one is disputing that political favourites have been ruthlessly promoted to the bench by successive government parties under our present system. Talented applicants with connections to parties in opposition have been kept waiting for judicial jobs until their own tribe is in the ascendant. It has always been a matter of “Buggins’ turn”.

No candidates should ever be rewarded with a judicial appointment in recognition of their service to a political party. Under the current system, they are. The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill aims to end this example of naked political patronage. It substitutes the current practice of fast-tracking party loyalists to the bench with a commission comprising seven independent lay people and six legal experts. Interviews will be used for the first time. Political allegiance will be neither an advantage nor a liability.

Legal expertise on the commission, so strongly advocated by the judiciary, will be provided by no fewer than six legal members, including three judges.

This radical Bill will retain the generally high calibre of our judges – as noted by Dr O’Brien – while ensuring that service to a political party no longer allows applicants to jump the queue for the bench. – Yours, etc,

SHANE ROSS TD,

Minister for Transport,

Tourism and Sport,

Dáil Éireann,

Leinster House,

Kildare Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Chief Justice Susan Denham saw fit to rebuke Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin over his Dáil comments about former attorney general Máire Whelan and reminded us of the separation of powers between the branches of government and the necessity to maintain some distance between them.

Just days later, Mr Justice Peter Kelly is reported (“Leading judge says Government moves to reform judicial appointments ‘ill advised’”, June 24th) as criticising Shane Ross’s proposals for reforming the judicial appointments process as “ill conceived” and “ill advised”, and the way in which they were being rushed through the Dáil when (in his view) other matters before the courts warranted a higher priority from legislators.

Could it be that our esteemed learned friends are trying to have it both ways, telling legislators how and when to do their jobs whilst being extremely sensitive about any comments directed towards them by our parliamentarians?

Whatever the merits of Shane Ross’s proposals, surely it is right and proper that the process of appointing judges should be debated and decided by our democratically elected representatives at a time of their choosing, and not by those who are the primary beneficiaries of the process? – Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,

Blessington,

Co Wicklow.