The country’s top judge, Chief Justice Susan Denham, has hit out at the failure of the Government to establish a judicial council, which she said is damaging Ireland’s international reputation.
Ms Justice Denham has called for the establishment of such a council, which would defend the independence of the judiciary and ensure an appropriate relationship with other branches of the Government.
She has said that the 20-year delay in establishing a judicial council, has created a significant “institutional vacuum” and is a matter for real concern for the judiciary and the State.
But she has made very pointed criticisms of the Fine Gael-led minority government for downgrading the status of a bill which would see the council established.
She said the placement of the Judicial Council Bill under the heading ‘all other legislation’, “would appear to be a demotion from its status under previous government legislative programmes”.
She added the failure to progress this institutional reform with the urgency it deserves weighs heavily, both on relations between the judiciary and the executive, and on the State’s reputation internationally, as a modern democracy governed by the rule of law.
“The absence of such an institution — by whatever name it may be called — sets Ireland apart from the overwhelming majority of EU member states, as well as leading common law jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada and Australia,” Ms Justice Denham said in her statement.
Her remarks are contained in a statement marking the beginning of the new legal year. She was speaking in the context of Ireland having to issue a report internationally but said the report will show that progress has been “extremely slow”.
“It is therefore a matter of the most real concern to observe what would appear to be a distinct loss of momentum in delivering this historic institutional reform.”
In the coming week Ireland is to give an update to an international body (GRECO, a Council of Europe anti-corruption group) on five recommendations relating to the judiciary, which it made in late 2014.
The report will show no real progress from Ireland despite an extension of time.
Throughout 2014 and 2015 the Judicial Council Bill featured in successive iterations of the Government’s Legislative Programme, with an indication on each occasion that early publication of the bill was planned.
The “Programme for a Partnership Government” published in May 2016 does not contain provision for a Judicial Council Bill, notwithstanding the fact that a judicial council had been included in an earlier “discussion draft” of the programme published earlier that month.
This vacuum in the Infrastructure of the State of Ireland has been remarked upon at international level, she said, referring to a 2012 United Nations recommendation that a judicial council be established.
GRECO stated that within 18 months following the adoption of the report of the October 10, 2014, “Ireland shall report back on the action taken in response to the recommendations contained herein.”
The 18 months expired in April 2016. However, it was extended to September 30.
Three of the GRECO recommendations — the first, fourth and fifth d1 would be met by the establishment of a judicial council, Ms Justice Denham said.
In response, a spokesman for Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said the Government is prioritising the legislation for publication this session.
“The bill, the complexities of which should not be underestimated, is at an advanced stage of drafting. Intensive work has been done on it over the summer months and the bill has progressed very substantially. It is a very substantial undertaking comprising at least 75 sections,” he said.
Following consultations with the attorney general, the Government said it was satisfied that the “specialist drafting of the bill is coming to a conclusion”.
The Tánaiste echoes the views of the Chief Justice as regards the importance of enacting this legislation and is fully aware of the pressing need for it, the spokesman said.
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