Independent TDs have called for the political appointments of judges and gardaí to be stopped and for top posts to awarded on merit alone.
Proposals were laid before the Dáil yesterday to overhaul the current system of appointing members of the judiciary amid claims posts were dished out as “rewards” to those who have been loyal to political parties.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter is currently reviewing the method of appointing judges and proposals are expected to be brought to his Cabinet colleagues by the end of this year.
Launching private members legislation, Independent TD Shane Ross claimed that some people who should be appointed as judges were excluded because of their “political colour”. He added: “The members of the judiciary, are deeply embarrassed by the fact that so many of their own number are appointed partly because of their political allegiance.”
Currently, solicitors and barristers apply to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) to become a judge.
For each vacancy, JAAB normally recommends a number of names to the justice minister and the Government then decides and sends the successful candidate’s name to the president.
Mr Ross claimed that politicians were heavily lobbied on positions and that applications to JAAB numbered more than 100 applications for each place alone in the District Court.
His Bill yesterday proposed abolishing JAAB and replacing it with a judicial appointments council which would be drawn from a broad spectrum of society, including legal academics, ordinary citizens and community groups.
An Oireachtas committee could then receive the names of those who had applied to be judges, debate them and eventually send them on to the president, he suggested.
Mr Ross also pointed out that some 200 top posts in the Garda were decided by the justice minister. This includes the appointment of the Garda Commissioner, one Deputy Garda Commissioner, eight Assistant Commissioners, 43 Chief Superintendents and 147 Garda Superintendents.
The Garda confirmed this.
He will publish further proposals to change this process later in the Dáil term.
European Affairs Minister Paschal Donohoe, who yesterday addressed the Bill in the absence of the justice minister, challenged Opposition TDs to outline one case where a judge was influenced by a political party or a Government. “Short-listing is expressly on the basis of competence and merit, not political affiliation.”
Similar judicial appointment systems to Ireland’s also existed in Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of Canada, he said.
The Bill will be voted on in the Dáil next week.
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