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Judges in plea for more training and better induction processes
Pic: Ireland's Content Pool

20 Sep 2021 / judiciary Print

Judges in plea for better training and induction

Irish judges are generally unhappy with the level of training and education provided to them, a seminar entitled Judicial Education and Training in 21st century Ireland has heard.

In 2019, Dr Rónán Kennedy of NUI Galway interviewed judges from each level of the Irish courts.

“We simply don’t seem to have enough judges in Ireland – there’s too much work to go around,” Dr Kennedy told the 17 September webinar.

Judges wanted a structured induction programme with staggered follow-up after six or 12 months, he said.

This is particularly the case at the superior court levels, where induction seemed to be “quite informal”.

Judges spoke of the need for a mentoring programme and were enthusiastic about any specialist skills training they had received.

Any reluctance to engage in online training had also shifted, accelerated by the pandemic, Dr Kennedy noted.

Study visits to Canada, New York State, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands were part of Dr Kennedy's 2019 review of a 2003 document, produced by the Judicial Studies Institute (JSI) on judicial-training needs.

Public confidence

The function of the Judicial Council is to ensure public confidence in the judiciary, and to ensure both excellence and independence in judges, Dr Kennedy said.

“All of these things have connections with judicial education and training,” he said.

In particular, judges need training in information technology. This will be provided by the Judicial Council, and not by the Courts Service, which administers and manages most, if not all, of the IT that judges use.

Judges have taken up training opportunities, sometimes by webcast, but the focus has been on substantive law topics, rather than judicial skills, Dr Kennedy said.

In other jurisdictions, the focus has moved to interactive training with varied methods, focusing on the development of skills in a practice-oriented way to deal with real-world problems.

Civil law matter

The assessment of personal-injury-damage levels is the only civil-law matter that is dealt with by the Judicial Council.

“It’s interesting to focus on the fact that that is what the legislature thinks the judiciary needs training on,” Dr Kennedy commented, adding that a great deal has changed since the 2004 review.

A serving judge could possibly be seconded to the role of dean of studies for judicial training, UL’s Professor Paul McCutcheon told the seminar.

This is a similar model to the appointment of a judge to the Law Reform Commission, he said, and would be a statutory provision.

Prof McCutcheon listed the recommendations of a 2004 review produced by the JSI, of which very few had been implemented.

He also anticipated the expansion and enlargement of the board of the JSI, with the perspective of external members also brought in.

A manager and back-office staff would also be needed, he said, in the development of a multi-annual CPD programme for judges, which would allow for better coverage of the training and education needs of judges.

Delivery 

Different delivery methodologies for judicial training should also be developed, he said, with formal recognition and accredited learning.

The JSI could also develop as a research entity that could produce or prepare ‘bench books’ for judges on particular topics, and there would also be space for traditional classroom education.

International links should be developed, and a ringfenced budget would be essential, Prof McCutcheon said.

He put the budget estimate at €1.2 million per annum.

The ‘craft of judging’

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys told the webinar that there was an objective need for judicial training.

“There are quite a number of skills that you use as a judge, that you simply don’t come across as a practitioner, except possibly by observing them,” he said.

In particular, he mentioned giving ex tempore (same-day) judgments.

Mr Justice Humphreys said that training was needed in the ‘craft of judging’, including ethical dilemmas, rather than updates on the latest cases.

He said that he had received excellent training from the England and Wales Judicial Training College, which included role-plays, scenarios and feedback.

Illuminating

"It was certainly extremely illuminating,” he said.

“It’s crucial that you never stop learning – nobody has all the answers anyway … and you have to be self-critical,” he concluded.

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