Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell has expressed his disagreement with some aspects of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2022, querying why practising lawyers are being shut out of membership of the proposed Judicial Appointments Commission.
The Chief justice was invited to give his views as part of a Department of Justice consultation process.
The draft legislation will have a bearing on lawyers, judges, academics and politicians, who should be informed of the factors and thinking behind it, he said. These factors have not been tested, he said.
Chief Justice’s concerns
He expressed his concern that no contrary views had been put forward, and described the exclusion of both solicitors and barristers as a “significant dilution” of the judicial component, which could lead to a weakening of the selection process.
He has also questioned the composition of the body, which will require equal numbers of lay and judicial members – while expressing his support for some lay representation.
The Attorney General is a non-voting member on the proposed nine-person commission.
‘Why no majority of judges?’
The Chief Justice said it was “not obvious” why it had been decided not to have a majority of judges on the commission.
The separation of powers and judicial independence did not mean that judges should be left “in some form of splendid judicial isolation,” he said.
The Chief Justice also believes that there is a case for devising a specific process for the most senior judicial appointments; however, the current proposals state that there is no compelling case for that.
Call for independent expert survey
He pointed out, also, that there has been no comprehensive, independent expert survey of the system of judicial appointments – though judges had already asked for this research to be carried out several years ago, along with detailed proposals for an improved process.
He disagreed with those who believe that the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary requires that judges should not be consulted on these matters.
The Chief Justice made his comments in an address on the theme of judicial dialogue, delivered last week to the Irish Association of Law Teachers at the King’s Inns in Dublin, according to a report in The Irish Times.