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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 27 January, 2020

Filibustering of Judicial Appointments Bill 'led by lawyers' says Ross

The Bill passed in the Seanad by a slim margin of 25 votes to 23.

The bill was one of the preconditions for forming part of the minority government.
The bill was one of the preconditions for forming part of the minority government.
Image: Nick Ansell

FILIBUSTERING “LED BY lawyers” has held up the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill for over 49 days, according to Transport Minister Shane Ross. 

After over 125 hours, the minister said the Bill is “very close” to becoming law. 

The Seanad passed the Bill yesterday after the government forced a guillotine – which prevented further debate on the issue. It passed by a slim margin of 25 votes to 23. 

It seeks to reform the way in which judges are appointed, and limit the role of politicians and the judiciary have in the appointment of new judges.

The proposed new law will ensure there is a non-legal majority on the board that will appoint new judges, as well as there being a lay-person as the chair of the board. 

Three names will be selected by the board and presented to government, who will still select the appointments. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ross said he has had to endure “filibustering” by “the legal lobby” in the Seanad and Dáil. 

Filibustering is a form of delay often used by politicians when they make a long speech in order to delay or prevent a new law being made.

“We are very close now to the most fundamental reform in the appointment of judges in the history of the State,” he said. 

He said in the past judicial appointments had been subject to “political interference and patronage”, and said a “new independent structure” is now needed. 

Ross said he was surprised at the “strength of the opponents” to the Bill in the Four Courts and the Seanad. 

In widely reported comments, Attorney General Seamus Woulfe told an event hosted by the Association of European Journalists in Dublin that some amendments to the Bill were contradictory, inconsistent and unconstitutional, referring to the Bill as a “dog’s dinner”. 

It’s not the first time that the legislation came in for criticism from senior legal figures.

In 2017, then-Chief Justice Susan Denham and the presidents of the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court wrote a joint letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar highlighting “the serious implications for the administration of justice” that the Bill could have.

The Bill has been progressed at the behest of Ross and his Independent Alliance colleagues, who made it one of the preconditions for forming part of the minority government.

Speaking today, Ross said the Bill previously passed in the Dáil with few difficulties, stating that he believes it will go through the Dail for the second time “very quickly” in January.

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