Reforming Judicial Appointments – Chief Justice Speaks

Chief_Justice_Denham_2_MB_(1)editedBelow is the full text of a statement issued by the Courts Service.





The Chief Justice, the Hon Mrs Justice Susan Denham, this weekend highlighted the depth and longevity of the reform agenda of the Judiciary. Speaking to the National Judges Conference – she spoke of the five years of efforts by the judiciary to have the process of judicial appointments reformed and made more transparent. And of the twenty years of judges asking for, planning and researching for a Judicial Council.



She said “In our democracy the three great pillars of State – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary – derive their powers from the People. It is a fundamental principle, that each of the great organs of State owes respect to the other. Inaccurate discussion and misrepresentation of the position of the Judiciary has been a feature of recent public discourse. Amongst other factors, it is surprising that it has been stated that the Judiciary are fighting change – when the opposite is the case – the Judiciary have been advocating change, but it has not yet been advanced”.
The Chief Justice said, “ The Judiciary have the led the movement for change in a number of important judicial areas, especially in the area of a Judicial Council and the appointment of Judges. The Judiciary have been requesting a change in the Judicial appointments system for years”.


Judicial Appointments Process

The Chief Justice pointed out that the General Assembly of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) was held in Dublin in May, 2012 and passed the Dublin Declaration to give official recognition to a report on the standards which need to be developed for recruitment, appointment and promotion of Judges. This Declaration was supported publicly by the Chief Justice and the Judges of Ireland. It recommended that:

Any system for the recruitment, selection and appointment of Judges should be independent of political influence, fair in its selection procedure, open to all suitably qualified candidates and transparent in terms of public scrutiny.

Following this declaration the Judiciary drafted and submitted an extensive written submission to the Department of Justice in January, 2014 regarding judicial appointments.
The Chief Justice said this weekend that “put simply, in a very thoughtful submission change was advocated by the Judiciary. A merit based appointment system was sought. A proposal was made that a limited number of persons should be recommended to the Government for any appointment”.


Recent meeting with Government

She informed the conference that the Government has indicated that it is continuing to review the process of appointing Judges, under their Programme for Government, that she had appointed a Judicial Appointments Review group to address the matter, and that this week representatives met with the Minister for Justice. Also in attendance was the Minister for Transport, Sport and Tourism.

The Chief Justice said, “At this meeting Minsters and officials were reminded of the long and ongoing efforts of the judiciary on the need for reform in the areas of Judicial appointments and a Judicial Council. The meeting heard that it was the Judiciary that had taken and maintained a proactive stance in relation to reform and change”.

She said “a Judicial Council is essential for the wellbeing of Judges, the administration of justice, and for the benefit of society – which flourishes under the equitable rule of law. I am committed to continuing to press the Government on the issue of a Judicial Council. I remain optimistic, despite the complexities of working with the Government”.

Chief Justice Denham Pointed out that a Judicial Council is essential:

  • as a key mechanism to facilitate appropriate interaction between the Judiciary and other branches of Government
  • as an essential support to the independence of the Judiciary
  • to provide for the continuing education of Judges
  • to provide courses for newly appointed Judges
  • to establish a committee to study and publish sentencing principles
  • to establish ethical guidelines
  • to establish a complaints procedure in the event of unethical behaviour been alleged against a judge.


Ireland’s Judges Praised by the Chief Justice

Addressing the conference the Chief Justice said, “there is no doubt that Ireland has come through difficult times. There is similarly no doubt that Ireland survived the trauma of global recession and more localised self harm, through every sector of society pulling its weight. I cannot say enough about the energy and commitment of my colleagues on the Bench – about you the Judges of Ireland – in reacting to the situation the State found itself in during the past few years.

You have – in court – imaginatively and with deep compassion – dealt with those who have been led to the courts by debt issues. You have navigated the needs of society, the expectations of victims, and the frailty of the human condition – with great prowess and energy – as you sought to bring justice to the often complex matters presented to you in court.

You have in work practice, continued to show an enormous willingness to change and to undertake more work with less resources. From my view as Chief Justice and as a judge with a quarter of a century of experience on the bench, I see that the judges of Ireland are undertaking a key role – patriotically – as they maintain the Rule of Law, and the democratic nature of our State, in these difficult and troubled times. I am honoured to work with you through this time”.


The Judiciary of Ireland are regarded highly at international level

Three reports were highlighted in the Chief Justices speech which point positively to the role of the Irish Judiciary:

GRECO, the Group of States Against Corruption having evaluated Ireland’s Judiciary, while making five recommendations, two relating directly to the issues of a Judicial Council and Judicial appointments, stated:

“Judges in Ireland have for a very long time been much respected for a high degree of independence and integrity and therefore a very high degree of trust from the public”.

The EU Justice Scoreboard 2016 shows that perception of judicial independence by the general public in Ireland is ranked 5th out of the 28 EU countries, after Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Austria.

In the World Economic Forum’s 2016 – 2017 ‘Report on Global Competitiveness’, Ireland was ranked 6th out of 138 countries examined, under the category “judicial independence”.

The Chief Justice finished by saying of these reports, “we see that the standing of the Judiciary of Ireland is recognised internationally for what it is – excellent”.

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