JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS COMMISSION BILL 2017
DRAFT SPEECH FOR MINISTER OF STATE WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR DISABILITY ISSUES FINIAN MCGRATH TD
28 JUNE 2017
Ceann Comhairle, I wish to welcome the introduction of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 to this House by Minister Flanagan.
Radical reform of the current system of judicial appointments was a key demand of the Independent Alliance during last year’s government formation negotiations. The Programme for Government committed the Government to reforming that system to ensure that it is transparent, fair and credible and, with the introduction of this Bill, we are delivering on this promise.
There has been a lot of debate, both in this House and elsewhere, about the issue of the membership of the new Judicial Appointments Commission proposed under this Bill.
Should there be a lay Chair or a judicial Chair? Should there be a lay majority or a judicial majority? For the record, I wish to make it clear that I support the proposals in the Bill that the Commission should have both a lay Chair and a lay majority.
What I wish to focus on in my speech today is, however, not the question of how many lay members there should be on the Commission but, rather, the question of what kind of experience or expertise these lay members should have and, most importantly, what criteria they should apply when recommending individuals for appointment as judges.
From some of the comments made in this House and elsewhere you might think that the lay members of the Commission will be a random selection of strangers pulled in off the street. The reality is, in fact, very different.
The Bill provides in Section 15 that the lay members must have appropriate “experience, qualifications, training and expertise” in a number of areas.
I welcome the fact that, among these areas, are
“matters connected with … human rights, equality or issues concerning diversity amongst members of society”.
Lay members with these backgrounds will bring important real world experience to the table when decisions are being made on judicial appointments.
I also welcome, most particularly, the criteria set out in Section 7 of the Bill which will be applied by the members of the Commission when making those decisions.
Decisions to recommend a person for appointment as a judge will now be based explicitly on merit and, subject to this overarching principle, regard shall also be had, firstly, to the objective that the membership of the judiciary should comprise equal members of men and women and secondly, and crucially, to the objective that the membership of the judiciary should, to the extent feasible and practicable, reflect the diversity within the population as a whole.
I endorse this provision wholeheartedly, reflecting as it does my own long held commitment to diversity and to working to advance the rights of all members of society including in particular the disabled community.
Speaking on RTE Radio’s Drivetime programme earlier this week the University of Limerick legal academic Dr Laura Cahillane commented on the Bill’s objective of a more diverse judiciary, stating:
“In Ireland, for example, we do have a very homogenous judiciary and research has shown that, when judges are in control of these sorts of appointing bodies, then they will always appoint judges in their own image so, if judges are all taken from the same sort of educational background, they’ve all gone to the same schools, they’re from the same sort of higher middle class background, then you’re going to have a repetition of all of these people being appointed.
Research has shown that, when you involve lay persons in the process, when you have a lay majority, you get a much more diverse judiciary”.
To achieve this laudable objective of a more diverse judiciary we must, of course, have a more diverse legal profession from which judges can be selected. This is an issue for another debate on another day and, for the purposes of today’s debate, I welcome this objective in the Bill.
Diversity encompasses a wide range of characteristics and, as Minister for State with responsibility for Disability Issues, I have a particular interest in fighting for the cause of disability rights.
[Insert a paragraph here drafted by Finian summarising briefly either generally or by reference to specific recent initiatives how Finian has fought for the rights of the disabled].
No disabled person should be excluded from any position in society for which they are otherwise educationally qualified solely on account of their disability.
No disabled person, or person from any other diverse background, should be thought not good enough to become a judge simply because those who appoint judges think that they’re not “people like us”.
These types of decisions may not be made consciously and those making them may not even realise that they are making them but without a diverse range of lay members at the table these decisions will undoubtedly be made and we will continue to have Dr. Laura Cahillane’s “very homogenous judiciary”instead of the diverse judiciary which this Bill has as its objective.
I look forward to the day when our diverse judiciary includes a representative number of members of the disabled community and, in furtherance of this vision, I will be supporting this Bill.