Attorney General ‘should not have a role’ in judicial appointments process

Attorney General 'should not have a role' in judicial appointments process

Sinéad Gibney

The Attorney General should not have any role in the judicial appointments process, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has said.

The rights watchdog has published its recommendations to the government and the Oireachtas on the general scheme of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2020.

Although the draft legislation sets out that the Attorney General would not have a vote on the proposed Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), the Commission believes their membership could still “exercise influence over the decision-making”.

The Commission argues that members of the judiciary should make up “at least half of those who sit on the JAC” and the judicial picks should be gender-balanced and as diverse as possible.

It also believes that the bill should include “detailed and specific statutory guidance on the selection process and criteria for the selection of judicial appointments, including the provision of mandatory interviews and judicial skills exercise for each applicants, unless there is good reason not to”.

The Commission has also called for wider eligibility criteria for legal academics, who will become eligible for judicial appointment under the bill. It says it is “unclear why legal academics must hold a permanent position or why they are required to have at least four years’ practice experience as either a barrister or a solicitor”.

It has also made a number of recommendations to strengthen the JAC’s work to promote diversity on the bench, including by introducing a statutory definition of diversity making reference to specific equality grounds and requiring the JAC to publish statements on how they will pursue the objective of improving diversity.

“The concept of diversity should at a minimum include age, civil status, disability, family status, gender, ethnicity, including membership of the Traveller community, religious belief, sexual orientation and socio-economic status,” it said.

Chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “A diverse judiciary can better represent society and better serve court users.

“The Commission wants to see a new Judicial Appointments Commission detail its inclusion measures to pursue greater diversity, and in this way set out a clear statutory mandate for ongoing work in this area.

“Independence of the judiciary is an essential element of the public’s perception of the judiciary and confidence in the judicial system. Perceptions can affect an individual’s decision to bring cases to court or refrain from legal action. The highest human rights standards must apply to ensure judicial independence and impartiality.”

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