Speaking today, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, said "There is a report today of 150 business leaders being present at a dinner on Thursday last addressed by a widely respected member of the judiciary. It is reported that comment was made that could impact on the reputation of the State and undermine public confidence in the independence of the judiciary. Members of the judiciary have traditionally avoided straying into the political domain.  It is unfortunate if constitutionally sanctioned pay reductions were presented as an attack on judicial independence.  Pay reductions have impacted on all of those paid out of the public purse, most of whom are paid at a substantially lower level than the judiciary. 

The People decided in a Referendum in 2011 that the vitally important and onerous role of the judiciary in our constitutional democracy should not render the judiciary immune from the consequences of the State’s enormous fiscal difficulties.   In circumstances in which the State is required by those on whom we have been dependent for financial supports to reduce public expenditure, it would have been extraordinary if the judiciary alone were singled out for preferential treatment and their remuneration left at a level substantially higher than in many states across the European Union. It would also have undermined public respect for the judiciary.

At a time when we are still fighting to restore our economic sovereignty and bring about sustainable economic recovery, we all have a duty when speaking to ensure that what we say has no unintended consequences and does not undermine international business confidence in the State. No one should have any doubt that the rule of law applies fully in this State and no question mark hangs over the independence of our judiciary or court system.

Contrary to what is reported today, where appropriate and in accordance with the principle of the separation of powers, there are both formal and informal contacts between Government and the Judiciary and I am surprised at the suggestion that this is not the case. There is also no question of "civil servants" being appointed members of the Judiciary. Such reference to the proposed appointment of new specialist judges to deal with insolvency matters in the circuit court could cast an unfortunate shadow over the independent judicial role they will exercise. At a time when the State has to reduce and contain public expenditure, under the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 those initially eligible for such appointment are serving County Registrars. These applications will go before the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board which will then recommend appropriate individuals for appointment by Government. County Registrars are not "civil servants". They are independent office holders appointed by successive Governments, all of whom were practising solicitors or barristers, who would, based on their longevity in legal practice, be eligible in their own right for appointment to the judiciary. In their capacity as County Registrars, they have for some years been carrying out limited judicial functions dealing with a variety of matters under statute at circuit court level. It maybe that this issue has arisen because solicitors and barristers are not eligible for such appointment until after the first cohort of specialist judges have been appointed. The reason for this is that County Registrars are eminently qualified to undertake this designated work in the circuit court system and their appointment as specialist judges will create additional judicial capacity for personal insolvency applications without imposing an unnecessary additional burden on the exchequer.

The present government has not nor will it ever interfere in any way with the inviolable constitutional duty of the judiciary to independently hear and determine court proceedings. Judicial independence is a crucial and fundamental principle of the concept of the separation of powers. This concept is of central importance and requires respect by each organ of the State."

14 April 2013

ENDS