The Government has approved the appointment of seven new judges to the Court of Appeal. All nominations will now go to President Michael D Higgins for approval.
Six of the judges are to be appointed immediately, while the seventh will be appointed when Mr Justice Michael Peart retires on 26 October.
Four of the newly elevated judges are current High Court judges – Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, Mr Justice Robert Haughton, Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh and Ms Justice Mary Faherty.
Three senior counsel have also been nominated – Ann Power, Maurice Collins and Brian Murray. Mr Collins will be appointed after the retirement of Mr Justice Peart.
Reduced waiting time
Legislation allowing for the appointment of extra judges was introduced earlier this year by the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.
The aim is to reduce the waiting time for appeals to the court, which currently stands at between 18 months and two years. The court will now have 15 judges.
Just last week, Chief Justice Frank Clarke called for the appointments to be made immediately amid concern that cases could be delayed.
High Court vacancies
These appointments mean that four positions have now become vacant in the High Court, and there will be mounting pressure to ensure that appointments are made swiftly
The Court of Appeal nominations come just days after Chief Justice Frank Clarke criticised the Government for failing to make any nominations after the Judicial Council Act 2019 had been signed into law last July to increase the size of the Court of Appeal from ten judges to 16.
The Chief Justice predicted that many scheduled cases would have to be delayed as a result. Earlier this year, Mr Justice Kevin Cross linked the shortage of judges to hear High Court actions related to the CervicalCheck screening controversy.
The Judicial Council Act 2019 passed all stages of the Oireachtas before the summer recess. It allows for the establishment of a new Judicial Council. The council will represent the Irish judiciary and formalise many of its operations. Among its functions, it will:
- Facilitate the education and training of judges,
- Provide a mechanism for investigating complaints against judges, and
- Establish sentencing guidelines, as well as guidelines for awarding damages in personal injuries claims.
The Judicial Appointments Bill, which is making its way slowly through the Oireachtas, would allow for a Judicial Appointments Commission to be established.
It would comprise judges, legal practitioners and lay members and would make recommendations about judicial appointments. If passed, the legislation would lead to the dissolution of the current Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.