Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Courts and Court Officers (Amendment) Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed)


9:00 pm

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)

I thank Members for their contribution to this debate, during which some significant issues have been raised. I propose to deal with a few of them.

As for the ratio of judges, Ireland is one of only four common law states within the European Union. The definition of a judge in a civil law state such as Spain or Italy differs greatly from the Irish definition. Judges in such countries are involved in directing investigations. Consequently, the equivalent to an official in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Ireland would be a judge there. Similarly, people from the criminal side of the Chief State Solicitor's office — now the Chief Prosecution Solicitor's office — would count as judges in the civil law system. Consequently, it is difficult to know whether one is comparing like with like when one states that Ireland has a low ratio of judges to its population. In any event, there appears to be general agreement that the appointment of the 14 additional judges is necessary and appropriate.

The Judicial Studies Institute has organised valuable training of judges and continues to so do. However, as part of my proposals for the establishment of a judicial council, I intend to give that council responsibility for judicial education and training, as well as the exchange of information among judges on matters that will include sentencing. I intend to make the Bill available to the joint committee and to take into account in its drafting any views that may emerge from the committee.

In respect of family law, the Courts Service continues to take initiatives to improve the quality of service provided to those involved in routine and difficult family law cases. In the Circuit Court, a third family law court has been established to deal with family law business in Dublin. Moreover, dedicated full-time family law courts are now available in Dublin and Cork and at present, there are dedicated days for family law cases in 45 District Court venues nationwide.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe raised a number of points, including the possibility of prescribing a substantial number of judges by law and then leaving it to the Executive to appoint judges as and when it saw fit by reference to numbers or needs etc. This would constitute a change from the existing system, which in itself is not too bad. However, there are issues such as how it would interface with the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. It would be strange if the latter had many vacancies but the Government did not propose to fill them. Moreover, as a general principle, when I propose to appoint additional judges, a debate takes place in this House. This is not the worst of outcomes.


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