As has been widely reported, a new Judicial Appointments Commission for appointing judges forms a key element of the Programme for Government, to reduce political influence in the judicial appointments process. The new Commission will have an independent chair selected by the Public Appointments Service and approved by an Oireachtas committee, though the final decision on judicial appointments will remain with the Government. Reflecting the commitment in the Confidence and Supply Arrangement for a Fine Gael-Led Government entered into between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that the Government will “establish a Judicial Appointments Commission to identify the most suitable candidates for judicial office”, the Programme for a Partnership Government provides (Chapter 16, section 6, at page 152) (pdf):
We will introduce legislation to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board with a new Judicial Appointments Commission. The new structure will include a reduction in its membership, an independent chairperson selected by the Public Appointments Service and approved by an Oireachtas Committee, and a lay majority including independent people with specialist qualifications.
We will reform the judicial appointments process to ensure it is transparent, fair and credible. We will reduce the number of suitable candidates proposed by the Judicial Appointments Commission for each vacancy to the lowest number advised as constitutionally and legally permissible by the Attorney General, but in any event not more than three candidates to be shortlisted by the Judicial Appointments Commission for any vacancy.
The new Chair of Judicial Appointments Commission will be asked to attend the relevant Oireachtas Committee on an annual basis to report on implementation of its statutory remit.
This is all very much to be welcomed. I hope that when legislation on the issue is being drafted, the opportunity will be taken to permit legal academics to apply for appointment to be bench, especially at appellate level. There is no good reason against this development, and draft legislation to this effect was introduced into the last Seanad.
Update (18 May 2016): I referred in an earlier post to the current vacancy in the Supreme Court of Canada, where there is also a debate about the process of judicial appointments, especially to the Supreme Court: Emmett Macfarlane on Here’s how Canada should vet its Supreme Court nominees; and Carissima Mathen on We don’t need hearings to help in appointment of a new Supreme Court justice.