LAST May the eminent European Network of Councils for the Judiciary, which met in Dublin, called for a fair, open and transparent method of appointing judges in this country. Clearly concerned at government meddling, the lawyers recommended that judicial appointments should be made by independent bodies and not by politicians.
The EU beaks want a system in Ireland that would be ‘independent of political influence’ and open to ‘all suitably qualified candidates.’ They said that appointments should ‘only be based on merit and capability.’ They also sought an appointments procedure that was open to public scrutiny, ‘since the public has a right to know how its judges are selected.’ Ireland’s Chief Justice, Susan Denham, backed the demand.
Their criticism was valuable, sharp and to the point. Importantly, it flew in the face of the controversial and complex procedure the coalition uses for selecting judges.
It goes like this. The President of Ireland makes the appointments, acting on the advice of the government (Presidents never reject a cabinet nominee).
The cabinet is helped in its choice by a list that is provided by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB).
The JAAB does not decide who should be appointed to judicial office, nor does it provide any clarification of the merits of the people seeking judicial office. It simply forwards names to the Government based on a criteria that, to say the least, are decidedly fuzzy namely that the candidates are competent, are of suitable character, have some experience, and can provide a tax clearance certificate. That’s it.
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On the Advisory Board are the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the President of the Circuit Court and the President of the District Court, the Attorney General, a practising barrister, a solicitor and three ministerial appointees. The minimum number of candidates the board can put forward for each position is seven.
However – and this is intriguing the government is not obliged to make its choice from the names on the list, thus reinforcing the perception that the way to land the job is to be connected to Fine Gael or Labour. In other words, the impression the public gets is that ‘pull’ can come into play.