Judicial Appointments Commission Bill
Association of Judges of Ireland
26 June 2017
The Association of Judges of Ireland feels it necessary to express its concerns at a number of measures contained in the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill which is shortly to be debated in the Oireachtas. The Association is issuing this statement notwithstanding its reluctance to ever comment publicly on issues of controversy. It has decided to do so on this occasion only because of the depth of its concerns.
The Judiciary is not opposed to the introduction of changes in the system of appointments to the bench. In January 2014, as part of the public consultation process on the subject of judicial appointments initiated by the then Minister, Alan Shatter, the judiciary made a detailed submission which took as its starting point that the present system of judicial appointments was unsatisfactory and that there was a need for change. However, the proposals that will shortly go before the Oireachtas are seriously flawed. The proposals do not accord with international standards and will not serve to depoliticise the system of judicial appointments.
The rationale for a lay majority and a lay chairman has not been explained. It is hard to imagine any other walk of life in which the majority of those involved in an appointment process would be required to come from outside the ranks of those serving in the area to which the appointments are being made. In addition, although the Bill as initiated provides that three members of the Commission will be judges, no member of either the District Court or the Circuit Court, which together deal with the overwhelming majority of cases to come before the courts, is to be a member of the Commission.
The Office of Chief Justice is diminished by the requirement that he or she should be an Ordinary Member of the Commission but should be statutorily precluded from being its Chairman. The AJI is concerned that the present proposals may damage the judiciary as an institution. One effect of a flawed appointments system is that it may discourage suitable applicants from coming forward. If that happens, that is damaging to the judiciary as an institution and to the State as a whole.
Having regard to its reluctance to become involved in public controversy, other than issuing this statement, neither the AJI nor its officers will be commenting further.