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Shane Ross offers a weak apology for saying judges live a 'charmed life'

He went on to say “I know it’s very difficult to change things… They’re very powerful people who don’t like things being moved”.

Image: Sam Boal

MINISTER SHANE ROSS has said he’s sorry for using ‘colourful language’ about the country’s judges when speaking about reform of judges’ appointments.

Last month, the Independent Alliance TD said that judges lived a ‘charmed life’, claiming there has “always been massive resistance to change from the judiciary”.

In a statement issued a week later, the Chief Justice Susan Denham contradicted the Minister’s comments, saying that there had been “five years of efforts by the judiciary to have the process of judicial appointments reformed and made more transparent”.

Speaking today upon the publication of a new approach to how judges will be selected, Shane Ross was asked whether he now regretted his comments:

“I think that some of the things that were said were very robust, but many of these things they had to be said because it was very important that people realised what we were doing.”

Maybe the language was too colourful, I think it was too colourful for lots of people in government as well and I’m sorry if it was too colourful.

“Otherwise the thrust of what we’ve done, we’re very very happy with the fact that we’ve achieved this for the first time. This is a very radical bill – it’s the most radical bill I think that’s been put forward under this government.”

The reforms for how judicial appointments will be made include having a lay chair on the board and a lay majority (the ratio will be 5:6), and a renewed emphasis on diversity in terms of gender and nationality.

“We’re delighted with the fact that it’s going to be independent, it’s going to be transparent, there’s going to be diversity in those who choose justice,” continued the Minister.

We’re going to see the selection of judges virtually taken out of the political arena, and it’s also not going to be dominated by the legal profession. That’s a huge achievement, so I’m really happy with where we’ve got so far.

Commenting on the publishing of these reforms under the Scheme of Judicial Appointments Commision Bill, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said that the gender and country of the person will be an important consideration for appointments.

Speaking on Drivetime, she said that the old system of appointments didn’t mean favours were done for friends, but that this was simply a case of updating the system.

She said that she didn’t agree with Shane Ross that the system was ‘broken’, saying in a statement released earlier today that “we are fortunate to have Ireland a strong, independent, impartial and well respected judiciary and these reforms will ensure this continues”.

‘Very powerful people’

In a statement issued following the National Judges Conference in November, the Chief Justice took the opportunity to ‘clear the air’ over judges’ stances on judicial reform.

“In our democracy the three great pillars of State – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – derive their powers from the people. It is a fundamental principle, that each of the great organs of State owes respect to the other.

Inaccurate discussion and misrepresentation of the position of the judiciary has been a feature of recent public discourse.

“Amongst other factors, it is surprising that it has been stated that the Judiciary are fighting change – when the opposite is the case – the Judiciary have been advocating change, but it has not yet been advanced.”

“There was no intention of getting anybody’s backs up,” said Ross when asked why the comments were made in the first place. ”Of course there wasn’t and you can see from the bill that we’ve been accommodating the judges that we value their expertise. We’re going to have at least two judges there, probably more.”

“We’re going to have another judge of relevant jurisdictions coming in to contribute to the interviews and deliberations. I don’t think it’s fair to say I’ve gone out of my way to antagonise them.

I know it’s very difficult to change things, in situations like this, they’re very powerful people who don’t like things being moved, so those have to be done.

Ross added that some issues around how judges are selected still have to be ironed out.

Read: Ireland’s top judge ‘surprised’ by Shane Ross comments that judiciary will fight change

Read: Bus Éireann could be out of money within two years

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