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Shake-up in bench make-up is JAC goal – McEntee
Pic: Lensmen

01 Jun 2022 / law society Print

Shake-up in bench make-up is JAC goal – McEntee

Law Society 2021/22 President Michelle Ní Longáin (pictured) has said that the Blackhall Place annual dinner is a highlight of the year and a true celebration of an illustrious profession.

Welcoming guests to the 2022 annual dinner (27 May), President Ní Longáin said that it was a pleasure to be together celebrating again after a very long two years that had had both positives and negatives.

The world was now changing at a very rapid pace, she added, but the legal profession was changing with the same speed.

Recent initiatives to reduce barriers to access in the legal profession offered evidence of a healthy training market and a healthy legal sector, President Ní Longáin said

Supports for Law Society members, including psychological services, were provided with the aim of supporting safe workplaces for everyone in the profession, President Ní Longáin said.

Reform of defamation law

In her speech, guest of honour Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that a bill to review and reform the Defamation Act 2009 would be available later this year, after consultation with relevant groups.

The minister said that democracy and the rule of law could not flourish without both robust protection of the right of freedom of expression, along with the right to vindicate one’s good name.

The media had a vital role in society in making sure that information was available for the public, the minister said.

Judge numbers

The Judicial Council, which was established in 2019, had played a crucial role in maintaining public confidence in the judiciary, the minister said.

The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill would further strengthen that, she added.

“Every single person who goes for appointment will have to go through the same process, irrespective of their background, or which position they are going for,” she said.

There would be three names, which would be a significant reduction on the current system, the minister said.

She added that diversity would be a particular focus in choosing candidates, as well as continuous education and an interview process.

More people should see themselves reflected on the bench, she stated.

“That’s a very clear ambition and intention of the overall bill itself,” the minister said.

Resources were a key aspect of easier and more efficient access to justice, she said.

This was particularly the case when it came to judges, where expansion in numbers was required, she said.

The minister said that the judicial planning working group was examining resources, and benchmarking against international comparators.

After this process, she will then speak to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform about the additional resources required.

“I'm very conscious that this is something we need to do,” she said, adding that there was a lot of work to do, in addition to the six High Court judges already added.

Complaints

The minister also said that there had been positive transformation in the management of complaints, and in the regulation of professional conduct.

The LSRA Setting Standards report sets out steps for accrediting legal education providers in line with competencies frameworks for practising barristers and solicitors.

The bill providing for legal practices between solicitors and barristers was now in its final stages, and she was working closely with the attorney general on it, the minister said.

Easier access to justice

The review of the administration of civil justice had made over 90 recommendations, the minister said, and was part of a process of modernisation and innovation across the justice sector.

The minister said that she believed its recommendations would result in quicker, easier, and cheaper access to civil justice, with incremental changes to be implemented by 2024.

This is part of a broader justice reform plan, including a review of the civil legal-aid system, for the first time in its history.

The law on criminal legal aid would also be modernised, the minister said.

Family law

A family-court structure will be established along with a finalised family-law strategy, about which the minister said she was “really excited”.

She said that family break-ups were extremely difficult, particularly when there were children involved, and much work had been done to provide not just a better physical court structure, but also ancillary supports to make family law less adversarial.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland