BaileNuachtAithisc an Taoisigh

Speech by An Taoiseach Mr. Enda Kenny T.D. at the launch of "The Politics of Judicial Selection in Ireland" by Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Royal Irish Academy, 31st May 2016

 

Ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here this evening to launch The Politics of Judicial Selection in Ireland written by Jennifer Carroll MacNeill. the first full account of the judicial selection process in Ireland.

Indeed, the reason this book was written was because we know so little, in terms of academic literature, about the judicial institution in Ireland.

This book delves into the rationale for change and reform in this sensitive and critical area of public administration spanning the period 1982 to 2007 and updated to the present day.

It covers the key decision makers in cabinet, the Taoisigh, Attorneys General and the Ministers for Justice and the members of the JAAB, so the scale involved here is clear.

At its core, this book is a defence of the basic principles of democracy - elect leaders in free and fair elections, then allow the law-making majority that is elected to make laws and decisions on behalf of the electorate.

Included in those decisions are the selection of judges and the selection of any system for choosing judges, and any changes to that system.

The book also asserts that the judiciary is a law making political institution in its own right, making decisions that can have profound implications for individuals within the state and for the governance of the state itself. Because of that power, it is essential that there be some measure of democratic participation in the selection of judges.

As a barrister herself - working in both political science research and in the political system, I can't think of anyone better placed to examine the synthesis that exists between the worlds of politics and government and the process of appointing judges.

The Politics of Judicial Selection in Ireland is an exacting and thorough treatment of the process of judicial appointments, the law underpinning that and the key 'players' involved.

It provides an informative insight into the question of public policy formulation and how and - more importantly - why Governments act to reform vital administrative processes.

The area of reform of the Judicial Appointments process is one in which the new Partnership Government plans to address.

A significant review of the judicial appointments process is currently underway in the Department of Justice.

The Programme for Partnership Government outlines our intention to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board with a new Judicial Appointments Commission.

The new structure will include

o a reduction in its membership,
o an independent chairperson selected by the Public Appointments Service and approved by an Oireachtas Committee, and
o a lay majority including independent people with specialist qualifications.

I know that expanding the role of the lay members in this regard is something you strongly advocate Jennifer.....and also that you support the proposed involvement of the Public Appointments Service in this regard.

The Government is ultimately seeking to reform the judicial appointments process to ensure it is transparent, fair and credible so of course, I read your thoughts in this regard with great interest.

I am fully in agreement with you that the move by the board to expand in some instances the list of names going to government for consideration for judicial appointment to 70 or 80 instead of perhaps 7 or 8 back in the early 2000s was in hindsight not a good one.

For that reason, we also have a commitment in the Programme for Government to reduce the number of suitable candidates proposed by the Judicial Appointments Commission for each vacancy to the lowest number advised as constitutionally and legally permissible by the Attorney General (but in any event not more than three candidates for any vacancy.)

This move will in turn restrict the discretion of Government though I know you agree that the Government of the day should have a role here given the impact of judicial appointments on the governance of the state and so on.


Legal reforms

Of course, during the last period of Government many court reforms were brought forward by the Minister, not least the establishment of the new Court of Appeal.

The Council of Europe's GRECO review recently found that the Irish judiciary to be among the most trusted public institutions in the country and I think its fair to say that there was a broad recognition that the independence and professionalism of our judges is undisputed.

And maintaining this must of course be kept to the fore in relation to any future reforms.

Jennifer, your work here provides a great backdrop to this task, and I know that it will come to be indispensable reading for policy makers and others concerned with this process.

I would like to commend your dedication, hard work and attention to detail in bringing this project to fruition and wish you all the very best for the future.