Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Questions (164)

Mattie McGrath


164. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will address areas of concern with respect to the Judicial Council Act 2019 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41132/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Deputy's question is comprised of seven individual questions and I will deal with each of those seven questions in turn.

Regarding the first question about the establishment of the Judicial Council, I expect to see the Judicial Council being established by the end of this year and steps are being taken to facilitate establishment within that time frame.

As to the naming of the new Secretary of the Judicial Council and their appointment date, by Statutory Instrument (No. 457/19), I recently commenced relevant provisions of the Act. These provisions relate to the appointment of the interim Secretary to the Council, and the process of identifying and recommending to the Government people who are suitable for appointment to be lay members of the Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee, the Judicial Conduct Committee and panels of inquiry. An interim Secretary was appointed on 11 September 2019, with the appointment of a permanent Secretary being a matter for the Council when established.

I will now address the Deputy's queries in respect of the complaints procedure around Judicial Conduct, and the date these procedures will come into effect.

Firstly, in terms of the sequence for implementation, the Judicial Council Act provides for the establishment of a Judicial Conduct Committee not later than 6 months following the first meeting of the Judicial Council.

With regard to the complaint procedures, the Judicial Conduct Committee will consider complaints and refer them for resolution by informal means or undertake investigations into the conduct of individual judges in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Act. A complaint may be made by any person who is directly affected by, or who has witnessed, the alleged misconduct and, in general, there is a 3-month window within which a complaint alleging judicial misconduct may be made.

Regarding when the positions for lay members of the committees will be advertised, a date has yet to be set but recruitment competitions for lay members will be advertised, in due course. The establishment of the committees on which the lay members will sit is dependent on the establishment date for the Judicial Council and when its first meeting is held (timelines for establishment of each committee are set out in the Judicial Council Act 2019).

Costs for the Judicial Council will include accommodation, staffing and establishment day. Budgetary provision is currently being considered.

The Deputy has asked if I will make a statement in relation to the appointment process of the President of the High Court. The Deputy has indicated, however, that these matters have been referred to the European Court of Human Rights to be adjudicated upon (i.e. the matters are sub-judice). As such, it would not be appropriate for me to comment.

Regarding the matters raised in question seven, the Judicial Conduct Committee will consist of 13 members - the Chief Justice (who will be the chairperson of the Committee) and Presidents of the Courts, 3 elected judges (8 judges in total) and 5 lay members. The Government will appoint 5 lay members to the Committee based on recommendations from the Public Appointments Service. The Act specifies the categories of persons who are not eligible to be lay members of the Committee. These include a member of either House of the Oireachtas, the European Parliament or a local authority, a judge or a former judge, a practicing barrister or solicitor and a civil servant. If a person appointed as a lay member subsequently falls into one of these categories, he or she ceases to be a member of the Committee. Not fewer than 40% of the lay members appointed to the Judicial Conduct Committee shall be women.

The function of the Judicial Conduct Committee shall be to promote and maintain high standards of conduct among judges, having regard to the principles of judicial conduct requiring judges to uphold and exemplify judicial independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety (including the appearance of propriety), competence and diligence and to ensure equality of treatment to all persons before the courts.

The Act provides for the possibility of an investigation (subject to conditions set out in the Act) of alleged judicial misconduct in the absence of a complaint or after the withdrawal of a complaint. The Judicial Conduct Committee shall, subject to this Act, be independent in the performance of its functions.