The European Commission 2022 rule-of-law report on Ireland finds that the composition of the envisaged Judicial Appointments Commission proposed in the Judicial Appointments Bill “raises some concerns”.
On 8 April, the Government tabled a draft law that provides for the establishment of a Judicial Appointments Commission composed of nine members to replace the current JAAB.
The commission is to be chaired by the chief justice, with three judicial members and four lay members, and the attorney general in a non-voting capacity.
The report says that the draft law unifies procedures, with some additional guarantees to limit Government discretion in the appointment procedure.
Three candidates will be presented, with two additional recommendations for a second and additional vacancies.
However, the composition does not provide for a clear majority of judges chosen by their peers, the report finds.
The fact that the Attorney General would sit in an ex-officio non-voting capacity was considered a concern by stakeholders, the report continues.
Final reforms must guarantee judicial independence, in line with EU law and considering European standards, the report urges.
“The draft law limits the level of discretion of the Government in the appointment procedure; however, the fact that the proposed commission does not consist of a clear majority of judges chosen by their peers raises concerns,” the report says.
The Judicial Council adopted conduct and ethics guidelines for the judiciary, where the role and discretion retained by the Dáil on the removal of judges could raise concerns about the potential politicisation of the process.
The attorney general introduced a scheme to provide legal representation to judges in cases of misconduct, which is a positive development to strengthen judicial independence, the report adds.
While extra judicial posts have been filled in the High Court, the number of judges per inhabitant remains low, the report says.
The level of perceived judicial independence in Ireland continues to be high among the public, and very high in business, according to the report.
Overall, 73% of the general population and 77% of companies perceive the level of independence of courts and judges to be ‘fairly or very good’ in 2022.
High litigation costs and shortcomings within the legal-aid system, however, continue to raise concerns.
The digitisation of justice has progressed, and work on the review of the Offences Against the State Act relating to the Special Criminal Court has continued, the report notes.
A draft law establishing a compensation scheme for cases of excessive length-of-court proceedings has been proposed.
The national strategy and action plan to Combat Economic Crime and Corruption has been affected by delays in establishing a permanent advisory council.
A criminal procedural act entered into force in 2021, and should make dealing with complex offences – including corruption – more efficient, but further reforms are needed to strengthen the fight against corruption, the report continues.
A review of the legislative framework on ethics has started, and includes addressing weaknesses in asset-disclosure legislation.
This review also aims to reinforce the capacity of the Standards in Public Office Commission, which currently lacks any enforcement powers.
The report says that cooperation between relevant authorities is good on prosecution and investigation of corruption, and that the number of cases detected and investigated continues to increase.
“Although recent figures show an even split of State advertising spending across national and regional media outlets, the lack of specific rules regarding the allocation of State advertising funds hinders the transparency of the process,” the report points out.
Reform of the defamation rules is expected to have a positive impact on the work of journalists, it says.