The Law Society has made a detailed submission to the Department of Justice and Equality on the Scheme of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2016.
In this submission the Society broadly supports, with some important exceptions, the Government’s proposed Bill as a forward looking, inclusive and contemporary approach to reform of the judicial selection system.
Director General of the Law Society Ken Murphy said, “One of the key objectives of the new appointments regime should be to increase the diversity of the judiciary. Diversity must include the appointment of more women, legal professionals from all backgrounds and, in general, more candidates from wider social and geographical origins. Such candidates will enrich the judiciary with additional talents, skills and insights.”
“The Law Society is committed to supporting policy reform proposals that reinforce and enhance the independence and strength of the Irish judiciary as a core pillar of the democratic governance of this State. What matters is that the new judicial appointments regime should be the very best process to attract and assess the most outstanding candidates from a broad range of backgrounds,” says Murphy.
Composition of the proposed Judicial Appointments Commission
The Law Society supports the proposed new Judicial Appointments Commission with a majority non-legal membership. An increase in the number of lay members from 3 to a majority of 6 will ensure that there is a much greater measure of diverse public interest represented in the judicial selection process.
Ken Murphy said, “Greater public involvement in the selection of judges is central to the public interest. The Society has long called for a reduction in the discretion of the Government in judicial selection because of persistent fears that judicial selection has been too tightly linked to political party patronage or perceptions of political party patronage.”
The Government has also proposed that the new Judicial Appointment Commission be chaired by a layperson – someone who is neither a judge nor a lawyer. The Society welcomes this proposal as one part of a comprehensive package of measures designed to ensure a broad public representation in the selection of judges.
Ken Murphy said, “Judicial selection is not a natural or necessary part of the judicial function in the way that responsibility for the administration of justice is part of the judicial function. The new system is in every respect transformative of the old system, including in terms of the demands of time that members of the Commission will be required to devote to its work. It is unreasonable to expect members of the judiciary to be able to give more time to the judicial selection process while still fulfilling their core judicial duties.”
The Society supports that the selection of the Chairperson be performed through open competition. This open competition should have, as its highest priority, the recruitment of a candidate with senior professional recruitment experience, board management and governance experience and experience of identifying and engaging highly skilled professionals.
The Society has long emphasised the importance of selecting judicial candidates based solely on merit. In our 2014 submission, we detailed the range of personal characteristics that contribute to merit including professionalism, communication, integrity, decisiveness, efficiency, leadership and management.
Ken Murphy said, “The Law Society has long been committed to securing greater diversity in the judiciary, particularly diversity of legal professional experience, gender, and socio-economic background. A judiciary that is reflective of society is essential for the enduring legitimacy of the judicial branch of government.”
“There is broad diversity of legal experience in this State, including solicitors and barristers in private practice, legal academics, and a range of in-house lawyers both in the service of the State and in private entities. There is exceptional talent and experience among this very broad pool of practitioners who offer a wide range of legal, personal and professional experience.”
“The Law Society calls on the Government to now urgently progress this legislation. Reform of the judicial selection process in Ireland has been under discussion since 2013. The necessity for introducing a reformed process increases with every year and reform is long overdue.”
Return to previous press releases