Reform of judicial appointments

 

Sir, – I am writing to you on a matter of some public interest.

Shortly, the presidencies of the District Court and Circuit Court become vacant and the Government will have to appoint new office holders for a period of seven years. The process by which the appointments are made is generally unknown, secretive, guarded and exclusively within the discretion of the government.

These appointments are not open to scrutiny and independent consideration. Although the manner of appointment of ordinary judges is prescribed by the provisions of Article 35 of our Constitution, the selection and appointment of presidents to the respective courts is not so regulated. This offends the precept that justice be administered in public as stipulated by Article 34. Incredibly, save to those who are aware, these judicial appointments are not even advertised nor tendered to open competition within the judiciary nor are they open to other eligible candidates from the legal profession. This flawed process has been in place since the foundation of our State.

Last year, in the appointment of the present chief justice, the Government initiated and created a non-statutory advisory committee which invited expressions of interest in the position of chief justice, from eligible persons, ie, serving judges and practising barristers and solicitors eligible for appointment. This process is a welcome precedent which was created to address the imperfections and defects in the manner of appointment heretofore. The advisory committee having advertised the position and considered all applications made recommendations for consideration by the Government. This was a fair, open and transparent process to all those who harboured an interest and wished to be considered, otherwise, some of those candidates would never have had an opportunity to apply for the office of chief justice.

The clandestine mode of selection observed by various Governments in filling these constitutional offices to date ought to be discontinued forthwith and I believe this Government will be open to such a new transparent and credible process which will bolster the trust and confidence of the public in this selection process. Furthermore, this type of transparency is mandatory so as to be conducive to the open administration of justice and reinforces judicial independence.

I suggest the Government should follow their above mentioned precedent and consider setting up a similar non-statutory advisory committee to invite expressions of interest from eligible candidates for the positions of presidency of the District and Circuit Courts.

For the record, this writer has no personal interest now or in the future to seek appointment to such positions but rather wishes only to reform and demystify a system cloaked in opacity so as to achieve a selection process which is the paradigm of fairness and transparency. – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY J HALPIN,

Judge of the District Court.

The Four Courts,

Dublin 7.