Today (Wednesday, 22nd November), the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, T.D., introduced the Judicial Council Bill 2017 into the Seanad for second stage debate.  
 
The Minister stated:  “this Bill has been long awaited and is an important reforming measure insofar as the structures which support our judiciary are concerned.   Through the establishment of a Judicial Council, this legislation will underpin the independence of the judiciary which is enshrined in our Constitution.   At the same time, through the introduction of a new system for investigating complaints against judges, it will provide for additional accountability within our judicial system.  Of course the Oireachtas retains its role and powers under the Constitution where more serious cases arise.”
 
The Bill will establish a Judicial Council of all serving members of the judiciary and will provide for a Board which will exercise, on behalf of the Council, the functions conferred upon it by the Bill.   Those functions will include the maintenance and promotion of:
- excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions,  
 
- high standards of conduct among judges, and 
 
- public confidence in the judiciary and the administration of justice.
 
The Bill will also establish a Judicial Conduct Committee comprising judges and lay members whose functions will include:
 
- the consideration and investigation of complaints, and
 
- the preparation and submission to the Board of the Council of draft guidelines concerning judicial conduct and ethics.
 
It is envisaged that the Judicial Conduct Committee will be able to refer complaints for resolution by informal means, or alternatively, for formal investigation by a panel of inquiry consisting of 2 judges and 1 lay member.   
 
If a complaint is substantiated, a panel of inquiry will be able to make such recommendations as may be considered appropriate for reprimanding the judge concerned and necessary for the purposes of safeguarding the administration of justice.  
 
The Bill will also provide for the formal establishment of a Judicial Studies Committee, which will be responsible for facilitating the continuing education and training of judges.   Furthermore, it will provide for the formal establishment of a Sentencing Information Committee which will have the function of collating information on sentences imposed by the courts and disseminating that information to judges and other persons.  
 
The Minister said: “I think it right to recall that we are fortunate in that we have a judiciary which is extremely well regarded in terms of perceived independence and integrity.   This is reflected in the fact that Ireland has consistently received high rankings in this area both in successive Global Competitiveness Reports from the World Economic Forum and in the EU Justice Scoreboard.   It is very important that we remember this as the debate on this Bill goes through the Houses and that we have a full understanding of the special position of judges under our Constitution.  I believe that the Bill achieves the requisite balance between independence and accountability and I commend it to this House.  I welcome the fact that the Bill is now being debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas and I hope that it can be enacted as quickly as possible.”
 
22 November 2017