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Judicial appointments will be ‘made on merit’ – minister
Retired Chief Justice Frank Clarke Pic: Cian Redmond

15 Dec 2020 / courts Print

Judicial appointments to be 'made on merit’

Government approval for the drafting of a Judicial Appointments Commission Bill has been secured.

The new commission will replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) and will consider all applications for appointments to judicial office.

The new nine-person Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) will make decisions based on merit, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said today (15 December), pledging a substantially more streamlined and transparent process.

‘Biggest reform’ in how judges are chosen

“This bill, when enacted, will lead to the biggest reform in the way judges are chosen for appointment, in a quarter of a century,” she said. 

“We have had a strong, independent judiciary since the foundation of the State 100, years ago. This reform bill will ensure we continue to have a strong, independent judiciary into the future. It builds on previous reforms, including a new Judicial Council.”

The minister added that a clear process for judicial appointments was important, and everyone should have confidence in it.

Quick legislative change

“Anyone who wishes to be considered for appointment to judicial office, including serving judges, will be required to apply to the commission – no other process will be in place,” she said, welcoming the fact that the Government has committed to a quick legislative change.

The General Scheme of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill will provide for the establishment of a Judicial Appointments Commission of nine members to replace the JAAB.  

It also provides for equal legal and lay representation for voting purposes.

The current JAAB process only concerns first-time judicial appointments, with no statutory advisory role in place in respect of appointments from the ranks of serving judges.

Under the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, both serving judges and non-judges will have to apply through the JAC. 

JAC to be headed by Chief Justice

Minister McEntee added: “A significant difference between this new 2020 bill and the 2017 bill is that the proposed Judicial Appointments Commission will be headed by the Chief Justice rather than a lay chair.

“The Chief Justice of the day has chaired the JAAB for over 20 years, and retaining this ensures that the selection process is absolutely rigorous and meets the need to have a strong and independent judiciary. 

“I am also of the view that a nine-person membership will be more cohesive and effective than the 17 members envisaged under the 2017 bill.

“Instead of a lay majority, there will also now be an equal number of lay persons and judges, and the Attorney General will serve as an ex-officio, non-voting member of the commission.”

Upgraded procedures

The JAC will develop upgraded procedures and requirements for judicial-office selection.

A new Procedures Committee of the commission will prepare and publish statements setting out selection procedures (including interviews), and judicial skills and attributes, having regard to several criteria – including matters such as diversity.

The Procedures Committee will be chaired by the Chief Justice, or a Judicial Council nominee.

The draft reforms, including provisions relating to the composition of the commission, will be published, subject to Government approval.

Five unranked recommendations

Under the bill, the minister will receive five unranked recommendations for each vacancy, eight recommendations where there are two vacancies, and 11 recommendations where there are three vacancies.

The membership of the commission (Head 9) will be:

  • The Chief Justice, as Chair of the Commission,
  • Two nominees of the Judicial Council, one a practising solicitor, and one a practising barrister,
  • The president of the court in respect of which the commission is to recommend persons for appointment,
  • Four lay members, three to be selected by open competition by the Public Appointments Service (PAS), and one nominated by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and
  • The Attorney General, in an ex-officio non-voting capacity.
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