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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 5 Nov 2013

Vol. 819 No. 1

Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Judicial Appointments) Bill 2013: First Stage


Go gceadófar go dtabharfar isteach Bille dá ngairtear Acht chun an Bunreacht a leasú.

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Constitution.

The main thrust of the Bill is to make the nomination for judicial appointments process more transparent, accountable and merit-based. That means removing the Government's role under the Constitution as sole nominator and replacing it with the Dáil, the Seanad and-or a duly nominated committee. However, I am conscious of the fact that the business of the Dáil for many decades has been dominated by the Government of the day, which on a daily basis uses its majority to pass motions notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders. These set aside Standing Orders for the taking of business. The Bill is drafted in such a way by having the nomination process in a manner provided by law. It is placed constitutionally beyond the reach of the Government to suspend or modify the process as it would be able to if it were left confined to Standing Orders under Article 15.10°. This is an important new principle being established and it is not anti-parliament. Rather, it recognises the reality of how business is done. The nomination process is therefore, under the Bill, in sharp contrast to the existing situation, put on a transparent and accountable footing openly in Parliament, the details of which are to be set out in statute.

A second, important principle being set out in the Bill is that constitutionally, the Houses or the parliamentary committee is being given a nomination role in an area of significant importance, namely, judicial appointments. Currently, the Dáil committees are given a backhanded role in having a chat with the prospective chair of a public body. Most recently, the Chairman of a committee, Deputy Charles Flanagan, complained at the hearing of the Ombudsman that his committee should have been given a greater role in the nomination of the Ombudsman. Therefore, I am sure he will fully support the Bill on that account. The Houses, therefore, will be given a new role for nominations for judicial appointments, which will give the Parliament a new dimension in keeping with parliaments of more developed democracies, such as the United States.

The purpose of the Bill is quite clear. It is to take the issue of judicial appointments as far as possible out of the hands of Government. The reason is that successive Governments have abused the power by stuffing the Judiciary with their friends, ex-Deputies and people who have loyalties to the party and are chosen on a basis that is not transparent. One of the problems that exists is that the nominating body, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, is not a transparent body with the power to appoint judges. It is ignored for the most part. The Government makes the recommendations and can ignore the nominating body. For many decades, judges have been appointed partly because of their political affiliations and not necessarily because of their judicial acumen. That is something I wish to put an end to.

Another issue that is very important is that there is no sanction of judges. We only have to read the newspapers this morning to see two issues highlighted in a high profile case. One is the closeness of politicians, particularly Government politicians, to the Judiciary. The second is that, if a judge admits that he or she has done something wrong, there is no sanction bar impeachment. The impeachment process has not been used successfully in the history of the State. It is time we looked seriously at improving the appointment of judges and the regulation of judges. This constitutional Bill will be followed by legislation that will open the gates to people other than judges, who will not be allowed on the appointing body, and politicians appointing the Judiciary. We are talking about something that is one of the last bastions of insiders in the country. I want to see judges being appointed by a broad section of society and being interviewed and approved by an Oireachtas committee, not by the Government. This Bill takes the Government out of the equation and gives power to the Oireachtas. That is an important constitutional change and is something many people will sympathise with. It gives the Members of this House power and the details in the Bill give rights to the Opposition, which means the Government cannot ram it through.

Is the Bill opposed?

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Tairgim: "Go dtógfar an Bille in am Comhaltaí Príobháideacha."

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.