Council of Europe raises 'significant concerns' over controversial Judicial Appointments Bill

The organisation is urging the Irish authorities to "reconsider this matter'

Council of Europe raises 'significant concerns' over controversial Judicial Appointments Bill

Picture by: Winfried Rothermel/DPA/PA Images

The Council of Europe's anti-corruption body says it has 'significant concerns' about having a lay majority appointing judges, as planned in the Government's Judicial Appointments Bill.

In a report out today, the Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) says it is questionable whether the proposals are in line with European standards.

Under the proposals - which are currently before the Seanad - a new Judicial Appointments Commission would be established, with a lay-chairperson and a majority of lay-members.

The bill has drawn significant criticism - including from Attorney General Seamus Woulfe, who earlier this year described the legislation as a "dog’s dinner".

The new GRECO report calls on the Government to ensure there is "substantial judicial representation" on the proposed commission, in order to help secure judicial independence.

The report states: "The controversial Bill, which has been subject to some amendments in this respect, is still under debate in Parliament, subject to critical media attention, and has been heavily criticised by the judiciary on grounds that GRECO assesses to be reasonable.

"GRECO urges the authorities to reconsider this matter in order to limit potential risks of improper influence from the executive/political power over the appointment process to the judiciary, or any perception thereof, and to do so in close co-operation with the judicial authorities."

Recommendations

The report from Europe's main human rights organisation also highlights that Ireland has only implemented 3 of 11 recommendations on prevention of corruption in respect of politicians, judges and prosecutors.

It says its overall level of compliance is low and unsatisfactory.

In a statement, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he welcomed the report, and suggested that work is under way to address some of the concerns raised.

On the subject of the Judicial Appointments Bill, Minister Flanagan said: "There will be a very strong judicial presence on this body, along with a lay majority of suitably qualified and carefully selected individuals. The Public Appointments Service will select individuals with the skills and expertise needed to carry out this very important function.

"I am confident that the appointment to the Commission of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, along with the Presidents of the four other courts will represent a substantial judicial representation on this body."