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Ireland’s top judge warns new judicial bill has to be ‘robust’

Chief Justice Frank Clarke said that while he wants to see the Judicial Council established by the end of the year, there should also be no shortcuts.

Chief Justice Frank Clarke made the comments today.
Chief Justice Frank Clarke made the comments today.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

IRELAND’S TOP JUDGE has warned that the new Judicial Bill has to be legally robust to minimise the risk of challenges.

Chief Justice Frank Clarke said that while he wants to see the Judicial Council established by the end of the year, there should also be no “shortcuts”.

In his statement marking the start of the new legal year, Justice Clarke said that the new body needs to be well resourced ahead of its establishment day.

The Judicial Bill was passed into law before the summer recess.

The Judicial Council is a body that represents the Irish judiciary that has several functions.

These include training for the judiciary, a formal procedure for complaints against judges, as well as a mechanism that will allow judges to recalculate damages and establish sentencing guidelines on personal injury payouts.

Speaking at the Criminal Courts of Justice, Clarke said that appropriate machinery must be in place to process complaints to the Judicial Conduct Committee.

“The Personal Injury Guidelines Committee needs to be able to conduct the research on the levels of awards in other jurisdictions to which the legislation refers and be in a position to make its first recommendations to the Board of the Judicial Council within the timeframe specified in legislation,” he said. 

“In the real world, exposing the work of those committees to a greater risk of stateable legal challenge, can only delay rather than speed up the time at which their work will have legal effect.

“In that context, it makes no sense at all to take any shortcuts.”

Clarke said that he knew that justice minister Charlie Flanagan had “indicated his strong desire to establish the council before the end of the year”.

“I have indicated to the Minister that I, and the judiciary, share a commitment to achieving that timescale. I do not doubt that it can be done,” he said. 

He said that the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee will have the legal power that will override GDPR requirements, but the Chief Justice warned that the legal power cannot be exercised until the committee is established.

He has also called for more judges to be appointed to the Court of Appeal saying there is an “immediate need” for an increase in judicial numbers.

While he praised legislation that was passed that will increase the number of judges from 10 to 16, he said it was “regrettable” that appointments have not yet been made.

The Chief Justice also addressed issues around access to the courts.

He said that the court process must be fit for purpose in the digital age but that this needed a major investment.

“At a meeting of the Board of the Courts Service just before the summer, a major report prepared by consultants in conjunction with the judiciary and senior Courts Service staff was adopted,” he said. 

“This report provides a vision for the development of the court process over the next 10 years.

“While not confined to IT, a radical increase in the use of digital technology is one of the central planks of the recommendations.”

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