1381. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Justice the changes she has made to the internal process in her Department for the appointment of judges since she came to office. [18279/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): As I have set out in my Justice Plan 2021, it has been my key priority to reform how our courts operate and the judicial system to ensure that a progressive strategic approach is taken to the appointment, deployment and training of judges. I have identified and driven a suite of significant reforms in this area since becoming Minister for Justice.
All of the processes for filling judicial vacancies have been reviewed, and revised as appropriate, over the last few months, and will continue to be subject to regular review within my Department, and by the other Bodies currently involved in judicial appointments. Additional guidance material has also been prepared for the various stakeholders involved, including the public.
The Government has established a process for the nomination of a person to be appointed as Chief Justice by the President. A non-statutory Advisory Committee has been set up to invite and consider expressions of interest in the position of Chief Justice and to make recommendations for consideration by the Government.
To provide additional assurance, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) is now actively involved in the independent Judicial Appointments Advisory Board process recommending suitable candidates from those who have expressed an interest in judicial office but who are not currently serving members of the judiciary.
Some of the key strategic developments in relation to the judiciary that have been progressed since I have come to office include:
- To reform the process of selecting and recommending judges, a Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is being prepared, which is due for publication during this Dáil term.
- To ensure that the justice sector is more reflective of modern Irish society, I have taken steps to improve the diversity of the judiciary and the professions which provide the pipeline of future judges, through encouraging a broad pool of applicants for the new patents of precedence process, which now enables solicitors as well as barristers to become Senior Counsel. Work is also being undertaken with the LSRA on opening up legal education and training.
- To provide independent evidence and international comparators to inform judicial appointments, I have established an inter-agency Judicial Planning Committee with an independent Chair to consider the numbers and types of judges that will be required over the next five years, including emerging needs in the context of Covid and which will consider judicial requirements in terms of numbers, specialisms and processes. I have requested that the OECD would inform this work by undertaking an independent review of the data available, having regard to international norms, to further develop our understanding of what is required on an objective basis. This is the first time such work has been undertaken here.
- I have agreed at Government this week that the cap on the number of High Court judges would be increased to address new issues arising, including Covid pressures, new arrangements for information sharing on criminality with the EU, and to ensure that the Strategic Infrastructure and Development issues are progressed in good time.
- To support a new vision for the delivery of family justice and the judiciary required to support that vision, the first stage of consultations have been completed as part of the family justice project. I will shortly launch the next phase - a public consultation, which will inform the process, including the issue of specialist judges.
- I have provided additional resources to support the work of the Judicial Council in developing judicial skills, an area identified as being of particular importance in the recommendations of the O’Malley report on the experience of victims for example which was published in August 2020 and the Review of the Administration of Civil Justice which is currently being actively implemented.
The strength and independence of the judiciary has been one of the successes of our State. The radical nature of the changes that I have progressed since taking office will ensure that the best people are attracted, selected, trained and deployed, supporting the quality of justice that our citizens expect and deserve, as well as further enhancing the standing of our judicial system at home and abroad.