- Bill comes to the House following an extensive consultation period
- It will introduce a modern, comprehensive and fit for purpose system dealing with judicial appointments in the State
- New Judicial Appointments Commission will be accountable and operate transparently
- Minister calls for respectful debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas
27 June 2017
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, this evening (Tuesday), introduced the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 in the Dáil for Second Stage debate. The Bill gives effect to commitments made in the Programme for Government.
Minister Flanagan called for a respectful debate in the Oireachtas, highlighting the integrity and professionalism of the Irish Judiciary and their contribution to Ireland’s modern democracy.
Minister Flanagan stated:
“The impartial administration of justice according to law is vital in ensuring that we have a strong and stable modern democracy in the State. The critical and often difficult task that the judiciary performs at every level of the courts system is central to maintaining this and a key concern is to have a system of appointments that supports public confidence in the administration of justice in our courts.
“The Bill provides for a number of very substantial changes which I believe represent a defining reform, providing for a modern, comprehensive and fit for purpose system dealing with judicial appointments in the State.
“For the first time we will have a comprehensive statute providing exclusively for the process of judicial appointments in a transparent way. The Bill represents quite a unique and modernising approach which has been devised to deal with this complex area of administration so that it is best suited to our needs in the 21st century.”
The Minister’s speech highlighted the consultation process that had accompanied the drafting of the Bill, including extensive consultation with the Judiciary. He stated:
“The Government has consulted in depth with the representatives of the Judicial Appointments Review Committee which is the senior judiciary grouping tasked with contributing to the change process. Very substantial and significant elements of the legislation are consistent with the informed views of the judiciary. For example the move to only three recommendations, the inclusion of all appointments in the new process including of serving judges, the dedicated resources provided, the provision for selection and recommendation to be based on merit, new accountability arrangements, a prohibition on canvassing and other important elements of the Bill reflect key tenets of the judiciary's position on these reforms.
Referring to the strong lay representation on the Commission, the Minister stated:
“Reflecting today’s governance and participation models of public policy decision-making, the new Commission will have strong lay representation. This legislation is largely about getting the balance right as between different contributions and interests.”
In respect of the composition of the Commission, the Minister stated:
“I would be the very first to acknowledge that the judiciary of course have very critical and indeed determinative expertise in terms of understanding and advising on the legal, courtroom and analytical aspects what it takes to be a successful judge and that this will in turn be complemented by the specific additional legal sector qualities which the Attorney General and the representatives of the Bar and Solicitors will also bring to the table. Clearly you cannot be appointed as a judge unless you have the necessary foundation legal and related knowledge and skills to do the job with excellence.
“However the non-legal people, carefully and professionally selected by the Public Appointments Service, who will now be part of these selection processes as a very substantial cohort, will also bring a range of necessary additional life, user and citizen perspective, governance and selection expertise into the mix.
“I am sure that, in the new arrangements, the participating judges, those with non-judicial legal experience and those with other areas of expertise and experience will work very closely and respectfully together, under the guidance of the chair, to reassure the people of Ireland that the best possible people are being selected for the bench. That is our aim. That is what we as a Government are proposing to the representatives of the people in this House today in the form of this Bill.”
The Minister concluded:
“I am satisfied that the critical task of selecting our judiciary for the future needs a modern professional structure with both essential hands-on and professional experience directly relevant to the Court environment and all of its stakeholders. Enhanced lay participation will complement the depth of understanding and vast expertise of our senior judiciary in the determination of what’s required for these important positions and ensure that the best possible candidates are selected reflecting our diverse society.”
Note to Editors:
Main provisions of the Bill:
· The Bill achieves the objectives of the Programme for Partnership Government to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) with a new Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), with a lay Chair and a lay majority selected by the Public Appointments Commission, and appointed by the Minister on an approval resolution by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
· The Bill provides for 13 JAC members made up of three senior judges – the Chief Justice, and Presidents of the High Court and of the Court of Appeal, the Attorney General, a Bar Council nominee, a Law Society nominee, six lay members recruited by PAS, and a lay Chair recruited by the Public Appointments Service (PAS).
· The JAC, working through a system of committees, will have a dual role of making recommendations for appointments, and by way of published statements, the ongoing development of selection procedures for judicial appointment and of the skills and attributes required of judges.
· The Bill reduces the number of suitable candidates proposed by the JAC for each judicial vacancy to three candidates from the stipulated minimum of seven now under the JAAB system. Under the Constitution Government retains discretion to appoint but, in a replication of the JAAB provisions, the Bill provides that Government must have regard first to the JAC recommendations.
· The Bill comprehends all judicial appointments including promotions of serving judges - these are currently outside the remit of the JAAB. A new Senior Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee comprising the Lay Chairperson, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General will make recommendations to the Minister for the top three judicial positions of Chief Justice, President of the Court of Appeal and President of the High Court.
· The selection and recommendation function will be carried out through a structure of five “relevant committees” representing each of the 5 different Court levels (Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High, Circuit and District). Depending on what court vacancy is being considered, the relevant committee will include the President (or his or her nominee) of the court to which the vacancy relates.
· Merit is provided for as the criterion for selection and, subject to that, the Bill provides for the objectives that the judiciary should be equally comprised of men and women and that it should reflect the diversity within the population.
· See: https://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=36330&&CatID=59 for explanatory memorandum and full text of bill.