Bar Council: A new Judicial Appointments Commission is 'unnecessary' 

Bar Council is expected to tell the Oireachtas Committee on Justice that the prospective new commission would be needlessly 'costly' and infrastructure in place could be 'reorganised' to perform the same function
Bar Council: A new Judicial Appointments Commission is 'unnecessary' 

The new bill was fast-tracked last year by Justice Minister Helen McEntee – currently on maternity leave – and is seen as a response to the furore surrounding the appointment of former attorney general Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court last summer. Picture: iStock

The establishment of a new Judicial Appointments Commission is in effect “unnecessary” given the infrastructure in place could be “reorganised” to perform the same function, according to the Bar Council of Ireland.

A submission from the Bar Council is expected to tell the Oireachtas Committee on Justice on Tuesday that the prospective new commission would be needlessly “costly”.

Other witnesses to the committee include the Law Society on the subject of the new commission, a draft bill on the creation of which was launched last December.

Three of the witnesses – legal academics Dr Laura Cahillane, Dr Tom Hickey, and Dr David Kenny – are expected to reiterate recommendations on the bill which they made in a submission last month.

They include, among others: 

  • That the Attorney General be ineligible for membership of the new commission; 
  • That candidates for a judicial appointment be required to complete formal interviews; 
  • That candidates sent forward to the Minister for Justice (who recommends the appointment) should be brought before a Cabinet sub-committee; 
  • That if the Government wishes to appoint someone other than that recommended by the council, it should make a statement before the Oireachtas.

The three are expected to tell the committee that if adjustments are not made to the draft bill in terms of eligibility criteria and the process of assessment, the new commission “could be no more effective than the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board has been”.

The new bill was fast-tracked last year by Justice Minister Helen McEntee – currently on maternity leave – and is seen as a response to the furore surrounding the appointment of former attorney general Seamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court last summer.

The committee is also set to hear from Dr Patrick O’Brien of Oxford Brookes University with regard to his research into the counterpart systems of judicial appointments in the UK.

Dr O’Brien is expected to tell the hearing that while the new bill declines to constrain the Government to appointing names recommended by the new commission, such a move would be “unusual in international terms” to create such a body “without requiring that its recommendations act as some kind of constraint on the ultimate decision maker”.

Meanwhile, the Law Society is expected to argue that the commission as proposed – with four lay members, four judges, and the Attorney General – is not “appropriately constituted”.

It is expected to state that “solicitors are best positioned” to provide the necessary perspective on how a judge should be chosen, and as such should be represented on the commission.

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