Judges’ misgivings about the Government’s Judicial Appointments Bill are “misplaced”, the Dáil heard last night.
Cronyism is rife in the current system of appointing judges, which is also highly politicised, opposition party TDs told the Government.
Michael Harty, an Independent TD in Clare, said he supported the new bill being presented, saying the judiciary needs to respect the separation of powers between it and the Oireachtas.
Mr Harty said the bill should not come as a bolt from the blue as it has been in the programme for government for 14 months.
“The judiciary should also have concerns for the separation of powers. Fears expressed by the judiciary are ill-conceived. Ill-advised, and unfounded,” he said.
Junior Minister Finian McGrath said the bill was a key demand of his Independent Alliance in last year’s Government formation talks.
“I support the items in the bill that the commission will have a lay chair and a lay majority. But more importantly I want to focus on what experience they will have,” he said.
“They will not be a bunch of random strangers pulled off from the street.”
Mr McGrath said the lay people must have some qualification to be considered to sit on the commission.
Earlier, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan insisted the Government acted within the law and current procedures in promoting former attorney general Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.
Mr Flanagan was quizzed at the justice committee yesterday about the recent decision to promote Ms Whelan to the court, but refused to go into any details, citing Cabinet confidentiality as well as the privacy of the board tasked with promoting figures to the bench.
He confirmed that former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald had written to the Judicial Appointments Board on April 12, notifying it of a vacancy in the Court of Appeal that needed filling.
Mr Flanagan said the board met on May 10 to consider applications, including for the Court of Appeal, but on May 16 told the minister that no suitable applicants were available.
It has been reported that three judges applied for the post, but Mr Flanagan would not provide specifics of the board’s decision, saying this was confidential.
He did confirm there had been other interest in the position.
Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan highlighted how the board had recommended seven names for promotion to the courts on May 23 and asked why this had not included someone to fill the Court of Appeal post.
At a Cabinet meeting on June 13, it was decided Ms Whelan would be promoted to the Court of Appeal.
Mr Flanagan, throughout questioning yesterday, maintained that the Government had discretion under the Constitution to appoint judges.
He said that during his entire time in Government, there had only been one situation where someone was promoted without being recommended by the appointments board. He would not say if this was when Ms Whelan was promoted.
He insisted that “correct and proper procedures” were followed in filling the Court of Appeal vacancy.
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