Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017: Committee Stage (Resumed)

SECTION 23
Question again proposed: "That section 23 stand part of the Bill."

We are on section 23. Senator McDowell was in possession. As he is not here, does anyone else wish to speak on section 23 before I call on the Minister?

Can I just take a quick look over it? No, I do not really want to contribute but Senator McDowell had asked a number of questions of the Minister and I am not sure the Minister has had an opportunity to reply.

If the Minister would do so it would be very helpful. I thank him.

I call on the Minister to reply on section 23.

I thank the Acting Chairman and I thank Senator Norris for his clear recollection as to where we were some weeks ago.

I hang on the Minister's jewelled words.

The Senator is right; I was responding to Senator McDowell but I acknowledge the status of Senator Norris. He is, of course, a Senator, speaker and mover of amendments in his own right so I am not going to regard him as a proxy for Senator McDowell.

I could not be.

I hope he is not going to represent himself as a proxy for Senator McDowell.

I am unworthy to fill his shoes.

I want, very briefly, to-----

Not that briefly.

-----answer the question.

The Minister without interruption please.

I will be brief because I am merely replying to a question from a Senator who is not here. Senator McDowell spoke about the purpose of section 23, which is merely a standard technical provision to provide for funding for the overall purposes of the Bill. It was inserted into the Bill by way of an amendment which I brought forward on Report Stage in the Dáil and which was agreed. There is nothing unusual about it; it is a standard provision. It mirrors that in similar legislation, in particular section 24 of the Judicial Council Bill 2017, section 32 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, section 26 of the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011, and section 19 of the Private Security Services Act of 2004. These mirror section 23, which is under consideration.

There were comparisons made and questions asked on the matter of the funding of the costs in respect of the current Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB. Senators will be aware that these costs are funded from Vote 22 - Courts Service, which is used to manage the courts and to support the Judiciary in a practical way. This is distinct from Vote 24 - Justice and Equality. I do not believe we are comparing like with like when we look to the experience of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board as a comparator in terms of costings for the soon to be established commission. I say this because the commission, as we know and as we have been debating, will have a much broader remit than that enjoyed by the advisory board. It will have both a selection aspect and a recommendation remit, as well as a remit to develop selection procedures.

I set out the details of expenditure involved in the administration of the JAAB for the period from 2014 to 2017 in the Dáil. That was based on information provided to me by the Courts Service. I would be happy to make that letter available to Senators. It sets out the staffing costs of the advisory board, estimated to be in the region of €50,000 per year. An executive officer employed on a less than full-time basis and supervised by an assistant principal officer is included in the cost of the clerk or secretarial services to the board. This may vary from year to year depending on the number of vacancies which, of course, determines the number of meetings. The explanatory memorandum to this Bill as initiated, to which I would draw the attention of Senators, states that the envisaged annual cost of the operation of this legislation will be in the order of €1 million for each full year of operation. This was, of course, an estimate. It was a rounded figure based on estimated costs for a full year of operation insofar as such an estimate could be made. However, the real figure, as I have said on the record of both this House and the Lower House, in any one year will probably be in or about half of that - approximately €500,000. The 2018 Estimates for the justice and equality Vote now provide for a new dedicated subhead for the judicial appointments commission - subhead A12. It has a token allocation for this year and, having regard to the progress we are making on this legislation, that would be accurate.

That is a saving this House is making.

It is solely for the purposes of establishing the new subhead. I am keen to say to Seanadóirí that it is unlikely that the commission will be established this year but budget 2019 has made start-up funding available for both the commission and the eagerly awaited judicial council. In anticipation of the enactment of this Bill and the Judicial Council Bill, €250,000 has been made available. I describe that as start-up funding. As well as the enactment of this legislation, which I am sure we all agree will be enacted in its entirety by the end of this year, that takes into account the period of time between the enactment of the Bill and the actual commencement of its provisions. Obviously, there will be preliminary preparatory work involved in putting the commission in place and other necessary start-up matters that will take a bit of time to established. Staffing costs for the support office under Part 5 of the Bill, based on one director at Civil Service principal officer level and a couple of support officers, are estimated to be in the region of €300,000. Non-pay costs, including recruitment, training and advertising, will make up the balance of approximately €500,000. That should be sufficient to allow matters to become established.

There is finally the matter of board fees in respect of lay persons. There will be nine lay persons, a majority. In accordance with section 11(1), each member of the commission will act on a part-time basis.

Lay members will be paid such allowances and expenses as would be agreed between my Department, my office and myself as Minister and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The current fee rates payable in respect of State bodies fall into four different categories and the fee range is broad, ranging from €6,000 to €15,000 per annum in the case of members of the State body, and €9,000 to €30,000 in respect of the chairperson. In providing this information I must say that it is subject to a determination as to the precise rates that would apply to lay members and the chairperson. These have not yet been determined with any degree of precision but I imagine that the operational mandate for the new commission will have a bearing on the fees that are to be paid. I do not wish to speculate on actual or precise rates but I have given a considerable amount of information and am happy to keep Senators updated.

On the accommodation or office of the commission, these decisions have not been taken yet and I am not in a position to advise. It would be premature of me to do so but at the earliest opportunity I would be happy to give Senators specific details.

I only have two questions for the Minister because I will be uncharacteristically brief. Section 23.2 states: "This section is in addition to any other provision made by this Act with regard to the provision of funding for a particular purpose." I wonder if the Minister and his advisers can draw my attention to the other provisions that are mentioned in this section. I am wondering where they are and what they encompass.

Section 30 deals with the judicial appointments commission's office. It states under subsection (6): "A member of staff of the office shall be a civil servant in the Civil Service of the State." I take that to mean that this person will be paid by the Civil Service and such moneys would not come out of the budget allocated to the commission?

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.