Is it proposed that in increasing the number of judges from seven to nine one of these extra judges will be allocated to jury cases in an effort to clear the backlog in that respect?
Courts Bill, 1977: Committee and Final Stages.
I have no doubt that that is where the allocation will be. There is no problem in so far as non-jury cases are concerned.
On the non-jury side, if one looks at the legal diary one finds a large number of family issues to be determined either on a preliminary or other basis. I was surprised to learn that there are only 15 substantive cases to be dealt with in the High Court but I understand from the Minister's reply that the family law cases will be tried separately, that is, in the High Court but in a separate complex. Presumably one of the extra judges will be delegated to dealing exclusively, either on a term or on a rota basis, with these cases.
The president anticipates that there will be enough work under the heading of family law to consume the full time attention of a judge, but the matter of allocation is one for the president. I gather that it is the present practice that all judges engage in the various types of work in turn so that there is no question of undue specialisation.
I am sure the judiciary would agree with the desirability of having a panel of judges of a limited number who would be delegated to deal with family law cases. Much of the legislation in this area is new and I would consider it important that whichever judge would be allocated for this purpose would have experience in this area.
I take the point but the Deputy can be assured that the president who has the responsibility of allocation is sensitive to this consideration.
It appears that in effect, we are providing for the permanent appointment of the two judges who are at present on a temporary basis. They will not automatically become permanent but the measure enables the Minister to appoint them permanently. I presume that is the intention but am I correct in assuming that it is not the intention to make any other appointment either on a temporary or other basis?
That is correct.
Therefore, the Minister is stating that there will not be any temporary appointments made and that this applies, too, to the District Court.
That is so.
I find myself in a more difficult position than is the Minister in the sense that anything I would have to say would be by way of confirming the support of all of us for the integrity of the judiciary. The difference between permanent and temporary judges is that those who are permanent can be removed from office only by a decision of a two thirds majority of either House, whereas in the case of a temporary appointment, the Minister can decide not to reappoint. There has been such a case in the past.
It must have been a long time ago because I have no recollection of it.
It was not all that long ago.
When a judge is appointed on a temporary basis the appointment is usually necessitated by a particular need but his appointment can be terminated at an uncertain time. That is the idea behind the temporary appointment. In providing for the making permanent of the temporary judges we are providing that their appointments cannot be terminated other than by a certain majority of either House.
Apart from those judges whose appointments will be made permanent as a result of this legislation, I take it that the provision will remain whereby judges can be appointed temporarily to deal with cases of urgency or with specific situations.
That is so. Suppose, for example, that in regard to the Circuit Court we found ourselves in the magical situation of being able to conjure up an extra court which would have a span of six months, we could appoint a judge temporarily for that period. It would be foolish to repeal that provision.
In effect, the Minister is saying that he does not intend to make any other appointment either to the Circuit Court or to the District Court apart from the making permanent of the present temporary holders of office.
That is so.
Another factor in relation to both the High Court and the Circuit Court is that when either court goes on circuit, an important element in the administration of justice to the best advantage possible is the great asset to the judges of having a knowledge of the social character and the general background environment. Depending on the extent of a judge's knowledge and experience in so far as these considerations are concerned, some judges are in a position to deal more expeditiously than others with the cases coming before them. From time to time because of the degree of expedition with which a judge approaches his work, the number of cases dealt with increases substantially in individual courts.
I can give an example of this. When I practised on circuit, I practised on a circuit that had eight circuit towns, in Tipperary, Waterford, Carlow and Kilkenny. I think that compares favourably with the number of circuit towns on any other circuit. I have long since left it but, before I did another county and circuit town was added, namely Portlaoise, and subsequently another county and circuit town was added, namely Wexford. It must be one of the biggest circuits in the country at present. It makes things difficult for a judge to cover such a big circuit and it seems that often the penalty for expeditious working is that other areas can be added to it. I wonder what comment the Minister might make on that. It is desirable that a judge should be secure, not that he would not be shifted from one area to another but that he would not have extra areas added, according to how he disposes of business.
The Deputy may take it no such changes will be made without consultation because to make changes that would not be agreed on, if you like, at least informally between the parties concerned and the President would be to introduce a note of acrimony which would not augur well for the administration of the courts. In practice I am not satisfied that it could happen without agreement.
I am glad to hear that consultation does take place because it is very desirable. Any degree of acrimony or even frustration or dissatisfaction could act against the interests of justice and the manner in which it would be administered—not that I do not think that all judges would guard against that—but where a judge has been sitting on a circuit and has made arrangements generally to travel from home to that circuit and stay at certain houses or hotels, it can sometimes cause great upset if he is transferred to another circuit. This is where I want to raise the question of temporary assignment to Dublin and to the greatest extent possible I would recommend the Minister to recommend to the President of the Circuit Court that that sort of transfer would be limited as much as possible. A judge who is generally assigned to a country circuit, from the experience I have of discussing it with them, finds it very difficult and would much prefer to be assigned to a neighbouring circuit if possible even on a temporary basis than assigned to Dublin say, for three or four weeks. It involves a kind of disruption.
It is purely voluntary, so to speak. There are various kinds of volunteers but essentially all these things are done by arrangement and agreement. That is the norm.
I should like to make one comment in relation to the Bill in so far as it does allow for the appointment of extra judges which I have supported and on which I have said perhaps less than might be necessary. I want to come back to one other thing: this is being done in the Dáil by the Executive. I do not think there is any better authority to do this or that anybody else who could be charged with this responsibility could discharge it in the same way as the Government. But, that being so, it imposes an obligation on the Government to ensure that appointments to the bench will be—and I trust that will be the result of these new appointments —in the best interests of the bench and the administration of justice. We may all have been, to say the least of it, less than diligent in our application here. I do not want to go back over the record of recent appointments but there is an obligation on us and the Government to ensure that that would be the fundamental consideration. The Government are the only authority who can discharge this responsibility. That is the best system. I do not know if the Minister has any reservations when he says that perhaps people say the system is bad. I do not think it is; I think it is the best system. Nothing is perfect. I prefer to see this system operate but it is based on the fundamental responsibility of the Government to do the right thing. We will leave the judgment as to who has done the right thing best to those who will judge us all. Some things have been said in the course of this debate which I think might have been better not said on both sides. What is to be done should be done to the advantage of the judiciary and through them of the public.
I can assure the Deputy that the Government share his view as to the importance of the judiciary in our society and consequently of the importance of making proper appointments to it. He can be assured that is the consideration which will inform the Government in making any appointments.