Preliminary Submission of the Judicial Appointments Review Committee

The AJI, represented by its President, The Hon Mr Justice Peter Kelly, has participated in the deliberations of the Judicial Appointments Review Committee (JARC) established by Chief Justice Denham for the purpose of making submissions to the Department of Justice and Equality’s Public Consultation on the Judicial Appointments Process.

The JARC has today (30th January 2014) published its preliminary submission, which the AJI fully endorses and supports. This submission contains sixteen important recommendations, which we particularly wish to highlight.

These recommendations are that:

1. The present system of judicial appointments is unsatisfactory.  The opportunity should now be taken to appoint a high level body to carry out research, receive submissions and within a   fixed timescale develop comprehensive detailed proposals in a structured, principled and transparent way to make a radical improvement in the judicial appointments process in Ireland.
 
In advance of any such comprehensive review there are a number of steps which can and should be taken immediately:

2. As a matter of principle, political allegiance should have no bearing on appointments to judicial office.  Early acceptance of this principle is essential to a transformation of the appointments process.

3. The merit principle should be established in legislation.

4. A properly resourced judicial education system should be established without delay with a mandate to provide education to members of the judiciary on all matters bearing on the administration of justice.

5. The creation of a Judicial Council is a much needed reform to support the judiciary.  A Judicial Council should be established forthwith, with responsibility for representation of the judiciary, an independent disciplinary process, judicial education, and the judicial involvement in the appointment process.  However, judicial appointments need not be part of a Judicial Council but can be conducted by a committee as envisaged in the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary “Dublin Declaration” of May 2012. 

6. The key to reforming the judicial appointments system rests on reform and development of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. 

7. The process of judicial appointments should first and foremost enhance the principle of judicial independence, upon which the rule of law in our democracy is built. 

8. The Committee believes that all judges should be capable of performing and be seen to perform the full functions of their colleagues of the same court jurisdiction.  Variations and inconsistency lead to lack of clarity and confusion where such should be avoided.

9. The number of candidates for a single judicial post submitted by the Judicial Appointments Board for Governmental decision should be reduced to three.  Where there are multiple vacancies in a Court, the number of candidates should be increased by no more than the number of additional vacancies.

10. Where it is proposed to fill a judicial position by promotion, including the positions of Chief Justice and Presidents of the other Courts, the candidates should also be subject to the advisory process of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.  Applications from serving judges to advance between different courts should be processed through application to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.

11. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board should be empowered to rank candidates and to designate any particular candidate as “outstanding”.

12. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board should be specifically empowered to inform the Government when it considers that there are either no, or no sufficient candidates of sufficient quality.

13. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board requires adequate financial resources to enable it to carry out its functions.  A reformed appointments system will require adequate resources.  It is recommended that there be consultation with the Judiciary on this matter.

14. The current statutory minimum periods of practice as a barrister or solicitor for appointment to all Courts should be extended to fifteen years.

15. It is essential that high quality experienced candidates are attracted to the bench.  Recent changes to pension provisions, both public and private, as they apply to entrants to the judiciary, may have little fiscal benefit to the State, yet create a wholly disproportionate disincentive to applicants for judicial posts, and deter high quality applicants from seeking appointment.  It is desirable that such provisions should be immediately reviewed to assess the benefit if any to the State, and assessing their impact on the quality of candidates for appointment to the judiciary.

16. The current requirement for Judges of the District Court to apply for yearly renewal from age sixty five to age seventy should be abolished.  Judges of all jurisdictions should have the same retirement age on judicial appointment.

The full text of the preliminary submission may be accessed at www.supremecourt.ie