the transport minister said the plan is “imperfect in many ways” but insisted it is a “huge and successful start”
The Minister for Transport has launched an impassioned defence of the government's plan to reform the appointment of judges.
Speaking in the Dáil, Independent Minister Shane Ross said he views the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill as “imperfect in many ways” but insisted it is a “huge and successful start” in terms of reforming the process for the appointment of judges in Ireland.
The bill, in its current form, will introduce a new appointments board for recommending judicial candidates to government.
The board will consist of a lay majority – with six members of the legal profession and seven from outside it.
One of the members chosen from outside the profession will sit as chair of the commission.
Reform of the appointments process was a key priority for Minister Ross during talks on the formation of government and he has secured a commitment from Fine Gael to push the legislation through before the summer recess.
It is likely to be passed with the support of Sinn Féin - despite strong opposition from Fianna Fáil and senior members of the legal profession.
The Minister for Justice, Charles Flanagan is known to hold reservations over certain elements of the bill, however he has insisted it can provide “defining reform” and provide for a “modern, comprehensive and fit for purpose system” for the appointment of judges.
Speaking in the Dáil today Minister Ross said that if the public trusts ordinary citizens to sit on a jury – it should have no problem with them nominating judges:
“If people ask me whether I have an agenda, the answer is that I do,” he said. “I have had an agenda all my political life on this.”
“It is that political interference in the selection of people who sit on State bodies, in positions of State or in positions involving the public purse should be reduced to a minimum.”
He said the legislation as it stands is “not radical enough” adding that he would have liked the commission to have less members, with the final list of recommendation provided to the government reduced from three to one.
“I had something a little more radical in mind,” he said. “However, it is - as all partnership governments find is sometimes necessary - a compromise and an agreement between various groups.”
“The objective of the Bill primarily is to reduce, if it is not able to eliminate, political interference in the selection of judges.
“What we want to see is a fair system which has enough legal advice, not something which is totally and utterly dominated by judges and lawyers.”
Minister Ross has previously found himself at odds with Fine Gael on the issue – with former Taoiseach Enda Kenny distancing himself from the minister’s suggestion that judges “lead a charmed life” and “might forget” their oath to consider every case without fear or favour.
Minister Flanagan has also expressed his disappointment with some of discourse surrounding the issue.
He wrote to Fine Gael TDs encouraging them to contribute to the Dáil debate on the bill - though contrary to earlier reports, he did not ask that they speak against it.
Responding to suggestions he is pursuing a vendetta against the Judiciary and the legal profession, Minister Ross said today that, “nothing could be further from the truth.”
“I want to say absolutely on the record - in accordance with what the Minister for Justice and Equality said yesterday - the record of the Judiciary in this country is something of which we can generally be proud,” he said. “This is not in dispute.”
“There is nothing but good that can be said in this debate about the record of judges in this country. We recognise that. It is important that they know that.
“There is no intention to insult them.
“This is an effort to give them a huge, significant and meaningful input in the process but not the power to make the final selection, which should be left to the good, honest, ordinary citizens of this country.”
On Monday, leading judges took the unprecedented step of writing directly to the Taoiseach to outline their concerns over the bill.
It follows a press release from the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI) warning that the proposed changes to the system for judicial appointments are “seriously flawed.”
Fianna Fáil meanwhile has called the bill a “really bad piece of legislation” warning that it could have “significant consequences for democracy.”