Bill on judicial appointments should undergo early scrutiny, says Dáil committee chair

Minister for Justice seeks waiver for requirement of pre-legislative examination

The chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice has said a new Bill which would change the judicial appointments process should be subject to early scrutiny following a plea by the Minister for Justice that it bypass such an examination.

Under the plans, the proposed new Judicial Appointments Commission would recommend the names of five people it considers suitable for vacancies on the bench, with the Government then deciding which of them will be appointed.

In a letter sent to the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl last week, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee asked for a waiver for the requirement for pre-legislative scrutiny of the legislation. Pre-legislative scrutiny involves an early assessment of a Bill by an Oireachtas committee.

Ms McEntee said she was asking for this part of the process to be bypassed because a similar precursor Bill had already “addressed the same matters of reform” and was “the subject of extensive debate before the Houses during its passage, and of course was the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny” by a committee.


She said the Cabinet agreed that a waiver would be sought for early scrutiny of the new Bill. The request was made in writing to the Ceann Comhairle.

‘Moving forward’

Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, who chairs the justice committee, welcomed the fact that Ms McEntee was "moving forward with new legislation on this", but said the legislation would benefit from the examination.

“Whether the Bill receives a waiver will be a matter for the committee and we will discuss that in new year,” said Mr Lawless. “I do not believe we have yet received a formal request to do so but in any event all correspondence will be reviewed at our January meeting.”

Mr Lawless said: “We have already placed this item on our work programme for the new year and there is an appetite on the part of the committee to review practice in this area so we may be keen to conduct such scrutiny.

“I think it benefits all legislation to be subject to detailed analysis of this type. I appreciate many discussions took place in the last Dáil but that was a different committee and a different Bill.”

As part of the plans, the new commission will comprise nine members including the Attorney General, who will not have a vote. The remaining eight members will be evenly split between the judiciary and lay people. The Chief Justice will chair the commission but will not have a casting vote. If the commission is deadlocked, it will be asked to retake the vote.

Ms McEntee also made a personal commitment to discuss all five names with the Taoiseach, the Attorney General, the Minister for Finance and the leaders of other Coalition parties.

“It would be my intention that all five names would be discussed or agreed between [the most senior figures in government] and [then] one name will go to Cabinet.”

Ms McEntee said the commission would be representative of all strands of law as well as wider society. She said the commission itself would also need to address the need for gender balance.

There has been ongoing controversy over the appointment of former attorney general Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court and around the process that was followed in that appointment. This came about after it emerged that a number of judges had expressed an interest in the vacancy but their names had not been mentioned by Ms McEntee to her senior colleagues.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times