Section 27 provides for precedence between judges and gives a long list. Why are we being so detailed in regard to precedence? There may be good reason for this, but it escapes me. Are they on different salaries or do they have a different status? I believe we should only have distinctions between judges on the basis of need. The President of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice, obviously has precedence, but I am not sure there is a need for a long list after that. For example, we could have a judge with significant experience sitting beside a judge who has just been appointed, but this does not mean the newly-appointed judge is not as proficient or more proficient than the person who has been in place for a significant period. It comes down to the quality and calibre of the individual, as well as experience. The Bill has a long list of ranking and I wonder about its purpose and whether any benefits accrue, salary wise or otherwise, with regard to it.
I worked in business and it was well known there that if a person went before certain judges of the Circuit Court to defend against liability claims, he or she would be hammered for compensation. Legal representatives would try to steer the case to a judge who was less sympathetic to the injured party and who took a more pragmatic business view of the situation. I did not think justice should be administered in that way, but that was what happened at the time. I do not know whether this would still apply today.
I have a question in regard to the register of interests of judges. This is a serious issue and I agree fully with Senator Conway. I should have said earlier that it would not be my intention to suggest the register should be public, but it should be available to a judicial council, if we have one. It should also, probably, be available to the Minister. This would ensure that potential conflicts of interest were signalled and could be detected and raised. For example, I have looked at some of the cases regarding the banks and have wondered why some of the decisions are made. In general, one would wonder how judges come to particular conclusions when a different decision seems more plausible and logical. I refer here to foreclosures and similar cases, where good cases seem to have been made. I admit I would not be in possession of all the facts, but judges should be. In this scenario, it is important the whole system is beyond reproach.
There is also an issue in regard to judges indulging certain barristers who are paid on a per diem basis. Some of these go on at length and their cases go on for weeks, although they could be completed in far less time and at a lower cost. Sitting judges must be on the ball regarding the essentials of the case and must be analytical enough to identify them rather than let barristers go on - perhaps as I am doing here - and eating up time. I am doing it at my own expense here, but their case is carried forward, with the clock ticking all the time. Any system that operates that way must be examined.
The Minister did not mention whether she would implement the Competition Authority report. I would really love to get a commitment from her that she will include the recommendations to curtail costs.
I welcome what the Minister said about tackling legal costs and I hope that will happen. I have heard the same from her predecessors, including some from my own party, but they did not follow through with action. She will be faced by a lot of vested interests but I hope she has the courage to follow through. Earlier I referred to the European Commission. The IMF's parting shots highlighted and shone a light on the failure of our programme to deal with the cost.
Finally, I welcome what the Minister said about judicial conduct. One area that a judicial council should look at, and it could be done by the peers, is consistent decisions. One of the things that rankles with people is how often there is a very significant disparity in judgments for similar cases. I agree fully with the separation of powers but if a judicial council is comprised exclusively of judges, who have experience in the area, it would be no harm for them to have as part of their remit to take on board some form of consistent sentencing.