A fresh report on the judicial system has argued that Government underfunding of the judiciary is hampering access to justice in Ireland.
Its authors also call for guidelines to be drawn up for the Oireachtas in cases where the Judicial Council recommends the removal of a judge.
The report, which analyses how the Judicial Council Act 2019 has been implemented, has been published by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), the University of Limerick, and NUI Galway, with funding from the Irish Research Council.
It finds that Ireland has the lowest number of judges per head in the EU, and argues that the State does not provide enough resources for the education and training courses that are needed for judges to keep up with changes in the law, in Irish society, or best practice internationally.
On the potential removal of a judge, the report says that “it is not at all clear” what processes should be adopted once such a proposal has gone to the Oireachtas. It describes issues about whether the question of removal can be discussed in advance of a motion as “nebulous”.
Co-author of the report Dr Laura Cahillane (University of Limerick) said: “At this stage it’s necessary that the Oireachtas decide on, and publish, a process for what to do when removal of a judge is recommended.
“An opportunity to do so was missed with the Judicial Council Act, but it can and should still be done now,” she added.
Call for complaints clarity
Co-author Dr Rónán Kennedy (NUI Galway) commented that, while new training for judges was underway, many had been taking time off and self-funding training up to now.
The ICCL said that the State had “dragged its heels” on properly resourcing training, which was “bad news for access to justice”.
Doireann Ansbro (head of legal and policy at ICCL) welcomed the advances brought about by the 2019 legislation, but expressed concern about the complaints process, arguing that it should be “more transparent”, and provide clarity for judges and complainants.
Guidelines on conduct
The Judicial Council, which represents the country’s judges, recently adopted guidelines on judicial conduct and ethics.
Their approval was required before the Judicial Conduct Committee could begin to oversee complaints and investigations relating to the conduct of judges in June of this year.
Under the 2019 act, the Judicial Council is charged which promoting and maintaining excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions, and high standards of conduct among judges.