Minister Flanagan announces the passage of the landmark Judicial Council Bill
- Legislation will provide for the first time for judicial training, promoting judicial excellence
- The Bill provides for the investigation of complaints against judges
- The Judicial Council will be responsible for adopting sentencing guidelines and guidelines for the awarding of damages in personal injuries cases
9 July 2019
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has announced the passing of the landmark Judicial Council Bill by the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Bill will provide for the establishment of a Judicial Council which will be composed of all members of the Judiciary and will provide for the first time, a statutory basis for the appropriate training for judges and for the investigation of complaints against judges. It will also require the new Judicial Council to adopt sentencing guidelines and guidelines for the awarding of damages in personal injuries claims. Under the legislation, the Council will be independent in the performance of its functions.
Minister Flanagan said: “The proposal for a Judicial Council has been discussed for many years and I am honoured to be the Minister for Justice and Equality that has introduced the legislation for this landmark development. This multifaceted Bill will help to shape the way in which our judiciary operates at all levels by promoting consistent standards of excellence, preserving the very valuable confidence that the public has in our judiciary and in the administration of justice in this country. The Bill, which has been developed in collaboration with the judiciary, will underpin the independence of the judiciary which is already enshrined in our Constitution and, is, of course, a critical component in any functioning democracy.”
In recent times, Judicial Councils have become a feature of most developed legal systems. The Council, once established, will in turn establish a number of Committees which will be responsible for a range of matters. The legislation provides for the establishment of the following committees:
- Judicial Conduct Committee: will investigate complaints against judges
- Judicial Studies Committee: will be responsible for facilitating the continuing education and training of judges
- Judicial Support Committees: will be available to each of the Courts to advise and assist the Council in the performance of its functions
- Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee: will be mandated to prepare draft sentencing guidelines
- Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee: will be assigned the function of compiling guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury.
Minister Flanagan added: “The factors which inform a judge in sentencing or making an award for damages are often complex and sometimes misunderstood which is injurious to the administration of justice in the State. This Bill provides for guidelines in both of this important areas to promote consistency and to ensure that departures from guidelines are well understood by those impacted and by the wider public.”
Under the provisions of the Bill, where a court departs from the sentencing guidelines, the reasons for such departure must be stated in its decision. The establishment of the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee will give effect to a recommendation of the Personal Injuries Commission, established by Government as part of its programme of work to reform aspects of insurance costs. The guidelines it produces will replace the Book of Quantum.
The Minister said: “The passage of the Bill is only a first step in the work which lies ahead. The Government will do everything necessary to ensure that the Council can be established before the end of this year. There will then be an ambitious programme of work to be carried out by the Council itself in order to address the mandate which has been entrusted to it. I have every confidence that this mandate will be carried out with diligence and to the highest standards.”
In concluding the Minister acknowledged, the valuable contributions of the current Chief Justice, the Honorable Mr. Justice Frank Clarke and his predecessor, the Honourable Ms. Justice Susan Denham, in particular, in supporting the creation of a judicial council.
It is anticipated that the Council will be established by the end of this year. The Department of Justice and Equality and the Courts Service are currently considering the practical arrangements which will need to be in place before the Council is established.
Notes for editors:
Board of the Council
The Bill, which was published in June 2017, provides for the establishment of a Judicial Council which will comprise all serving member of the judiciary. There will be a Board of the Council to carry out the functions conferred upon the latter by the Bill.
Those functions will include the maintenance and promotion of:
- excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions,
- high standards of conduct among judges,
- the efficient and effective use of judicial resources,
- continuing education of judges,
- respect for the independence of the judiciary,
- public confidence in the judiciary and the administration of justice.
Committees under the Council
Judicial Conduct Committee
The function of this Committee is to promote and maintain high standards of conduct. The Committee will investigate complaints against judges. The Committee may refer matters for resolution by informal means or, in the alternative, may refer matters to a panel of inquiry for formal investigation. If a complaint is upheld, provision is made for the issuing of a reprimand to the judge concerned which may include the issuing of advice, a recommendation as to the need to attend a course or training of a specific type and the issuing of an admonishment. The name of the judge to whom a reprimand issues will be published in the Annual Report of the Committee.
A key function of the Committee will be the preparation of draft guidelines concerning judicial conduct and ethics. Those guidelines will include guidance as to the matters a judge should consider when deciding whether he or she should recuse himself or herself from presiding over legal proceedings. Furthermore, the Committee may provide advice and recommendations to an individual judge or to judges generally on judicial conduct and ethics. The Committee is also required to publish the procedures, which are to be followed in the making, the investigation and the determination of a complaint.
Judicial Studies Committee
This Committee will have a role in facilitating the continuing education and training of judges, which will be broader than the role currently undertaken by the current committee of the same name in relation to these matters. The Bill sets out examples of potential training areas such as European Union law and international law, human rights and equality law and the conduct of trials by jury in criminal proceedings.
Judicial Support Committees
The Judicial Studies Committee will establish Judicial Support Committees for each of the Courts to advise and assist the Council in the performance of its functions insofar as matters relevant to the Court to which the Committee relates are concerned.
Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee
This Committee will be mandated to prepare draft sentencing guidelines and to submit those guidelines for review by the Board of the Judicial Council, prior to their adoption by the Council itself. In imposing a sentence, a court shall have regard to sentencing guidelines relevant to the proceedings before it, unless the court is satisfied that to do so would be contrary to the interests of justice. The reasons for departing from the sentencing guidelines will have to be stated in the decision.
Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee
This Committee will develop personal injuries guidelines for adoption by the Judicial Council. Another function involves the review of adopted guidelines at least once every three years and, if necessary, the preparation of amendments to the guidelines within the same timeframe. The Committee will be empowered to consult widely with external stakeholders, including the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, and to obtain information about court decisions in this jurisdiction and in other comparable jurisdictions. Provision is also made for the courts to have regard to any guidelines which might be in being when a personal injuries action comes before them. Where a court departs from those guidelines, the reasons for that departure must be stated in the decision.