Chief Justice to chair appointments body instead of non-judge
PRESSING AHEAD: Chief Justice Frank Clarke. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
October 18 2020 02:30 AM
The Government is pressing ahead with plans to install the Chief Justice as chair of a new commission that will consider judicial appointments.
The Coalition is ditching a key element of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill that would have installed a non-judge as chair of the new body.
Instead, legislation – which Justice Minister Helen McEntee hopes to enact before Christmas – will install the Chief Justice as chair of the commission.
The commission is being set up to advise the Government and it aims to restrict the role of politicians and the judiciary in appointing judges.
Under the last Fine Gael-Independent minority government, the bill had proposed that the commission be chaired by a non-lawyer and with a non-legal majority at the insistence of former transport minister Shane Ross.
It was subject to one of the longest filibusters in Irish parliamentary history when it was held up in the Seanad with Fianna Fáil among those opposing it.
The Coalition has agreed to reintroduce the legislation – and intends to pass it before Christmas – but with one key change at the behest of Fianna Fáil which would see the commission chaired by the Chief Justice Frank Clarke, instead of a lay member.
Mr Ross has argued that this change should be reconsidered in light of the events surrounding Supreme Court Judge Séamus Woulfe’s attendance at the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in August.
“It would be staggering if the Government responded to the recent fiasco in the Supreme Court by removing the lay chair from the Judicial Appointments Commission and replaced him or her with Chief Justice Frank Clarke,” he told the Sunday Independent.
Mr Ross pointed out that Mr Clarke currently chairs the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB), which was involved in Mr Woulfe’s appointment to the court.
Mr Woulfe applied to the JAAB after the general election in February and informed Leo Varadkar of his application.
JAAB recommended Mr Woulfe’s appointment to the Supreme Court vacancy in March. It did not put forward any other names.
Mr Woulfe was appointed by the new Coalition in mid July.
A spokesperson for Ms McEntee said: “In line with the commitment in the Programme for Government to enact the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill within the first six months of Government, a scheme for a new bill is currently being prepared.
“The bill will be in line with the Programme for Government commitment that provided that the Chief Justice will be the chairperson of the Commission.
“When the scheme is put to the Government, they will also be asked to decide on a number of other matters that will represent further development of the legislation which lapsed upon the dissolution of the last Dáil.”