When I reported progress on this Bill yesterday I had said almost everything that I felt was necessary. When I left off I was referring to the power in section 2 of the Bill which allows a judge to ask the Government through the Minister for Justice for permission to transfer from one area to another. I suggest to the Minister that he should try to get a quid pro quo in relation to this.
I assume that when a judge is appointed he must consent to that appointment and the position is not forced upon him by the Government. Justices of the District Court and judges of the Circuit Court are appointed to given areas. As I see it, section 2 gives the right to a judge to seek a transfer from one circuit to another or from one district to another. On the other hand the Government do not reserve to themselves that right. Yesterday the Minister conveyed by way of interjection that a provision of that kind would take away from the independence of the judge and take away the guarantee of no political interference.
I am conscious of occasions when some district justice may not be performing his functions as the Government would wish and I am not talking about the straightforward party political content. I am talking about the national interest. Human nature being what it is, it is possible that one judge out of 59 may carry on in a manner which may not be in the national interest. I am not saying we have judges who are doing so. I am not making any insinuations of that kind. I am saying that it is not right for the Government to tie themselves down to such an extent, in their anxiety to be strictly impartial and to keep the law independent of party political influence, that they run the risk of having one of the judges administering the law in an improper manner. The Minister may reply that there is a safeguard because, if he is convinced that a judge is not performing his duties and functions properly and if he can convince the Opposition of that, then the Oireachtas have the power with a two-thirds majority to dispense with the services of that judge. The Minister should seriously consider this aspect before he finishes with this Bill. He should seek the approval of the Oireachtas for giving the Government the right in specific instances to assign a judge from one district to another without the necessity for his consent.
The Government should have this power, even if the judge or justice takes offence or takes it as a rap on the knuckles. We have this type of operation in the Garda Síochána. Sometimes there is an adverse reaction when a commissioner decides that a garda is to be transferred from one division to another and often the press become involved. We have had experience of this in the last couple of years. The rules are such that a garda under the terms of his appointment can be assigned automatically to any area or division. It is assumed that in 95 per cent of cases this does not happen. Unfortunately, arising from this, when such a transfer takes place it is taken as a disciplinary measure.
When the Minister made his intervention yesterday on this it was in regard to a re-assignment of a Circuit Court judge or a transfer of a district justice being taken as arising only from some sort of reprimand because of the judge or justice not carrying on his duties in the proper manner. We have the transfer arrangement and practice but always on the basis of the application of the Circuit Court judge or district justice himself, never from the point of view of pressure from the Government. This is why I was drawing attention to the phraseology of section 4, but we can deal with that on Committee Stage.
On the Courts Bill one of the things I have been endeavouring to be careful about in my comments is not to earn for myself the tag of being anti-law and order. It is extremely important in what we say in relation to our judges and justices that we be seen and heard to uphold the law of the land. Sometimes the conduct of judges in courts can undermine confidence in or respect for them. As Deputies have said previously, history shows that the administration of justice by our judges can truthfully be said to be second to none. Public representatives all over the country will tell of approaches from various directions. I suppose not a week passes without my being approached by some fellow who has been caught on a drunken driving charge or is going before the courts on any sort of charge and asked by him if I will go and see District Justice so-and-so or Judge so-and-so or, at a lower level, a superintendent or sergeant. This is the pattern. Good politics does not always demand that you tell the fellow to go to blazes, but I have found that it has never been politically improper for me to explain to each and every one of those people, either the offenders themselves or their representatives, that there is one thing a public representative could not and should not do and that is approach a judge or endeavour to influence a judge or district justice. I can truthfully say that, apart from meeting some High Court judges and being introduced to them as Minister at official functions somewhere, I have never spoken to one of them in my life. I have not known any of them personally before their appointments, and it might be no harm to put that on record in relation to the influence of Government Ministers in the past in the appointment of judges. The matter of respect brings me to an article in this morning's paper in connection with a young solicitor being rebuked by a district justice for not wearing a tie.