Transport Minister Shane Ross has escalated a public spat over the appointment of judges by declaring that members of the judiciary do not want to declare their financial interests.
Mr Ross was responding to Supreme Court Justice Susan Denham’s defence of the judiciary, where she said judges wanted reforms, including how they were appointed.
However, Mr Ross, who wants a lay majority to decide appointments, stepped up his attack on the judiciary yesterday, as internal disagreement continued in government about the issue.
The Independent Alliance TD reiterated it was agreed in the programme for government with Fine Gael that the appointment of judges would be taken out of the political arena. The programme commits to setting up a new judicial appointments commission, with a lay majority, to take over from the current judiciary board, which recommends the appointment of judges.
There has been a delay legislating for the new commission, with the government suggesting the new provisions will be in place next year. Mr Ross has insisted no new judges are appointed until then.
However, last week he suggested a new declaration of interests was needed for the judiciary — not committed to in the programme for government — in case judges “might forget their oath”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny disassociated himself from these remarks in the Dáil.
At the weekend, Justice Denham criticised the recent “inaccurate discussion and misrepresentation” of the judiciary, stating they had led calls for reform for years.
“It is a fundamental principle, that each of the great organs of State owes respect to the other,” said the chief justice. “Inaccurate discussion and misrepresentation of the position of the judiciary has been a feature of recent public discourse.”
Mr Ross, though, intensified the row yesterday by criticising the judiciary even more and also maintaining there would be no “backsliding” on his demand.
“We want independence, we want transparency, and we want the judges to be above reproach and we want people to see they are appointed in a very transparent way,” said Mr Ross.
The judiciary and Department of Justice are locked in talks on the new legislation. Despite the chief’s justice defence, Mr Ross insisted yesterday that judges were opposed to reform, as envisaged by the programme for government.
“The judiciary wish to change the appointment being in the hands of politicians to being in the hands of lawyers, legal people, and judges,” said Mr Ross. “I don’t see the point in taking it out of hands of politicians and giving it to judges to appoint people in a very inside way. One of the things that judges don’t want to seem to do is declare their interests, their financial interests. That’s a very important thing for people, politicians have to do it.
“The judges are seen to be independent, they are seen not to have conflicts of interest. We’ve got to break down this kind of mystique which surrounds judges and that’s got to go in the bill as well.”
Fine Gael ministers are expected to discuss the fresh call for a judges’ registrar of interests at this morning’s party meeting.
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