Taoiseach dismisses government minister’s comments on judges

Enda Kenny has rejected Shane Ross's remarks that judges lead a "charmed life" and "might forget" their oaths

Taoiseach dismisses government minister’s comments on judges

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The Taoiseach has publicly distanced himself from comments made by a government minister about Irish judges.

Transport Minister, Shane Ross said the judiciary leads a “charmed life” and claimed they cannot be removed from office.

He called for the introduction of a “register of interests” so that it is clear when judges have vested interests in a case.

When reminded that judges already take an oath to consider every case "without fear or favour," he suggested, "they might forget it."

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny said he had the “utmost respect” for the judiciary and insisted that it is “absolutely not the case” that judges forget their oaths:

“I am quite sure that members of the judiciary themselves are very cognisant of the fact that there are superior courts up to Supreme Court and even the European courts where cases have been overturned,” said Mr Kenny.

“The judges in these courts make decisions that are perfectly within their right to make and completely independent of anything to do with politics.” 

Minister Ross has made reforming the system for judicial appointments a priority since entering into government.

The Independent Alliance TD wants to see a new Judicial Appointments Council introduced to recommend qualified candidates for the judiciary.

A joint Oireachtas committee would then consider the recommendations and nominate judges for appointment by the President.

He has called for the constitution to be amended so that no judge or practicing lawyer can have a role in assessing or recommending candidates.

He called the old system, “an outlet for political patronage” and has threatened to personally veto all judicial appointments until new legislation is enacted.

However, the Transport Minister’s ultimatum is being blamed for a backlog of cases with a number of judicial vacancies currently waiting to be filled.

Catherine McGuinness, head of the Law Reform Commission, this morning called for Minister Ross to abandon his bill and back the "perfectly reasonable one" recently put forward by Fianna Fáil.

The former Supreme Court judge said it could take “quite a long time” for legislation to make its way through the Dáil and warned there is no guarantee the proposals will ever pass:

Labour Leader, Brendan Howlin told the Dáil this afternoon the idea that legal professionals should be excluded from the appointments process is “in my view bizarre.”

“Would Deputy Ross seriously be willing to undergo surgery by a surgeon appointed by a panel of stockbrokers or journalists?” he asked.  

“Doctors, engineers, architects and academics are all appointed by panels comprising a majority of experts in their relevant fields.  

“Any clear-headed analysis will conclude that being a judge requires expertise, and we need experts to assess the expertise of the candidates proffered.”

Mr Kenny said all judgements are 90% common sense and 10% law and called for any appointments council to be made up of a mix of laypeople and legal professionals.