Tuesday, 10 July 2018
Order of Business
The Seanad is scheduled to debate the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill for more than 18 hours over the next two days but as we spend our time debating what really results from a pet topic and a petty grievance of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, life is going on in the real world. If we were to consider the necessary reforms around the appointments of judges, we should be considering the serious problems that continue to face the legal system.Indeed, both the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister for Justice and Equality should direct their minds to what the President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Peter Kelly, said when he placed a statement on the website of the Courts Service last Friday. His statement is worth reading into the record. He said:
As a result of a shortage of judges in the High Court, it is necessary to redeploy judges from their designated duties so as to ensure that trials in the Central Criminal Court, Family Law, Wards of Court and Commercial List cases do not have to be postponed. As a result, it is regretted that all cases in every other High Court list are at risk of having to be adjourned at short notice.
It is extraordinary that Mr. Justice Kelly has been placed in this position. There are currently three vacancies in the High Court. We have delays in hearing cases, which already have been added to by the shenanigans of the Minister, Deputy Ross, in delaying appointments to previous vacancies. He has, effectively, held these appointments hostage in order to secure political concessions on other issues.
Last May, the President of the Court of Appeal, Mr. Justice Birmingham, stated the court was facing "an immediate crisis" due to the shortage of judges. There is currently a 20-month waiting time for appeal hearings in that court. Last week, an entire jury panel was sent home as there were no judges available to hear cases on the list. The problem is not confined to the higher courts. An "RTÉ Investigates" programme in December 2017, as we will recall, showed a shocking level of chaos at District Court level with drink-driving legislation not being properly applied, lengthy delays in bringing prosecutions, cases being struck out due to a lack of resources and administrative chaos allowing repeat offenders to evade proper justice. This is what undermines confidence in our justice system not the current arrangements for the appointment of judges. It is populist attacks on the Judiciary led by Government figures in recent years that has undermined public confidence in the justice system. We should direct our minds to these matters. What is going on is certainly not good governance in respect of the administration of justice.