Judges bill ‘should not be a political football’

New laws to change how judges are appointed should not be kicked about like a “political football”, warns Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

It comes after attorney general Seamus Woulfe described the Judicial Appointments Bill, which has been championed by Independent Alliance Minister Shane Ross, as a “dog’s dinner”.

Questioning Mr Varadkar on the issue, Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace said it was “wholly inappropriate” of the attorney general to give his opinions on policy decisions in respect of how judges are appointed.

At an event on Friday, Mr Woulfe said the myriad amendments made by the opposition to the bill are “contradictory, inconsistent, and unconstitutional”.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Wallace said Mr Woulfe’s comments were “so outrageous that one could be forgiven for thinking that he is either deliberately trying to scupper the bill or is displaying a serious lack of judgment, which is very concerning given the position he holds”.

Mr Wallace said that it is not the role of the attorney general to make comments on the policy direction of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, which would see a lay chair and a lay majority appointed to the Judicial Appointments Commission.

“His role is to advise Government on the legalities of the bill only,” said Mr Wallace.

“He is not an elected member of Government but a legal adviser to same. If the bill has ended up a ‘dog’s dinner’, it has more to do with the fact that the bill presented by the Government was a mishmash between the original private members’ bill of the minister, Deputy Ross, and what Fine Gael could live with, than the efforts of the opposition on the justice committee to correct the bill.”

Mr Varadkar appealed to members of the Dáil to ensure the bill is not used as a political football.

“Our judiciary and judicial system are too important to be kicked around. We should not allow it to be a political football,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the Government is committed to reform of the judicial appointments system but admitted he is “concerned” some of the amendments put down at committee stage “create difficulties”.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said the attorney general was “completely out of order” in making public comments about legislation to appoint judges, as well as a live case in the Supreme Court.

“His role is to provide legal advice to the Government, not to make public comment on the role of the Oireachtas,” she said.

Ms Shortall said the remarks were an issue as one amendment in the bill proposes removing the role of the attorney general in helping decide who to appoint.

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