Appointments to the judiciary: Lay chair may lack impartiality

IN a landmark case in 1982, the Supreme Court Judge Seamus Henchy spoke about “The bitter Irish race-memory of politically appointed and Executive-oriented judges”. 

Perhaps it is that race-memory that lends historical weight to the new system of appointing judges about to be introduced by the Oireachtas at the behest of Shane Ross.

While Mr Justice Henchy was speaking in the context of the constitutional guarantee of trial by jury, it is hardly too much of a stretch to argue that the appointment of judges would also benefit from significant lay input.

Our common law tradition is a broad church where the laity — ie, the jury — often takes centre stage. It has survived violence, politicial upheavel, revolution and constitutional change. Its endurance is testament to the fact that, in certain circumstances, the amateur trumps the professional.

In that context, there is logic in the reasoning that judicial appointments are too important to be left to the experts. However, the insistence by the Government that there should not only be a lay majority but also a lay chair of the commission may be a mistake.

The purpose of a chairman is to put things in context in an impartial and neutral manner. It is not a skill that everyone has but judges exercise it every day in charges to a jury.

In that respect, it would make far more sense if the commission chairman was a judge rather than a lay person.

More on this topic

Latest: Senator accuses minister of 'misleading the public' with Judicial Appointments BillLatest: Senator accuses minister of 'misleading the public' with Judicial Appointments Bill

Government accused of filleting Judicial Appointments Bill through own amendmentGovernment accused of filleting Judicial Appointments Bill through own amendment

Ross accuses 'legal insiders' of filibustering and delaying Judicial Appointments BillRoss accuses 'legal insiders' of filibustering and delaying Judicial Appointments Bill

Michael Clifford: Who judges the judges in Ireland?


Lifestyle

We hear a lot about the geese, ducks and swans that arrive here from colder climes for the winter, but much less about smaller birds that come here to escape harsher conditions in northern Europe.Keep an eye out for redwings this winter

More From The Irish Examiner