Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Questions (184)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

184. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on whether a register of interests should exist for judges, similar to that in place for politicians and that judges should be legally compelled to declare conflicts of interest, which may potentially arise in cases they are dealing with; if safeguards or guidelines exist in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4763/18]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the position is that the courts are, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and the conduct of any court case is a matter entirely for the presiding judge.

It is established practice for judges not to act as a judge in a case where they have an interest, or where there are grounds on which a reasonable person might apprehend that in respect of the issues involved he or she would not get an independent hearing. Any party to proceedings may apply to a judge to recuse himself/herself where there is an apprehension of objective or subjective bias in the case.

The Deputy will also be aware that the Judicial Council Bill was published in June 2017 and is currently awaiting Committee Stage in Seanad Éireann. During the Second Stage debate on that Bill, I referred briefly to the fact that a Register of Interests for judges might have a function in maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the judicial process and that I would explore options in that regard.  I acknowledged the possible need for greater openness concerning pecuniary matters while also acknowledging the independence with which judges are vested by virtue of their constitutional office.  The exploration to which I referred is continuing and I envisage that there will be further discussion around this matter as the Bill progresses through both Houses of the Oireachtas.