Minister Ahern publishes scheme of the Judicial Council Bill 2010

The Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D., has today published the scheme of the Judicial Council Bill 2010 following the approval of the Government.

The Bill provides a means of investigating allegations of Judicial misconduct and provides options for dealing with misconduct where the nature of the misconduct warrants investigation and action but is not sufficiently serious to call for the removal of the Judge from office.

The Bill will establish a Judicial Council of all serving members of the judiciary which shall be independent in its functions and will promote:
· excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions,
· high standard of conduct among judges,
· the efficient and effective use of judicial resources,
· continued education among judges, and
· respect for the independence of the judiciary.

An overseeing board comprising representatives of each of the courts will support and manage the policy of the Council under the overall authority and oversight of the Council.

Speaking on its publication, Minister Ahern said: "The proposals for this Bill have been the subject of very extensive consultations with the judiciary for some time and I am now pleased to be in a position, following Government approval, to ask the Attorney General to arrange for formal drafting of the Bill. It was the Judiciary who took the initiative in this area with the publication of the Keane Report in 2000 and they remain fully committed to the establishment of the Judicial Council."

The Bill, taking into account the recommendations of the Keane Report, will provide processes whereby assertion of misconduct by a judge can be investigated. In any case where an allegation turns out to be well-founded, the disciplinary process will be able to recommend one of a range of sanctions depending on the nature of the breach of judicial ethics involved. The sanctions include the issuing of advice or a reprimand to the judge concerned, a recommendation that the judge follow a specific course of action or the issuing of a recommendation in respect of procedural or organisational change.

The Bill also provides for lay participation in the Judicial Conduct Committee which will be responsible for:
· the consideration and investigation of complaints,
· the preparation and submission to the Board of the Council of draft guidelines concerning judicial conduct and ethics, and
· the making of regulations setting procedures for the consideration and investigation of complaints to be laid before both Houses.

The Bill will also provide for the Judicial Studies Institute to be put on a statutory footing. The Institute will, among other things, be responsible for the preparation and distribution of bench books, publication of material, organisation of conferences and meetings, provision of training in relation to IT and the dissemination of information on sentencing.
 
Minister Ahern concluded: "The establishment of a Judicial Council through the enactment of the Judicial Council Bill will ensure continued public confidence in judicial integrity. The participation of lay persons will provide an open and transparent means of investigating complaints that heretofore have had no means of inquiry. The participation of all judges in the Council will give the judiciary a sense of ownership of the work of the Council and will ensure the independence of the judiciary is not compromised.

I have made the proposals available on the Department's website for consultation and I have also asked the Irish Human Rights Commission for their views."

The scheme of the Judicial Council Bill 2010 is available on the Department's website www.justice.ie 

23 August 2010

Notes for Editors

Background

In 1999 the Working Group on a Courts Commission (the same body whose work led to the establishment of the Courts Service) produced a report to the then Chief Justice, Liam Hamilton (now deceased), on the question of judicial conduct and ethics. This was against the backdrop of the resignation in that year of a High Court judge in what was known as "the Sheedy affair".

One of the recommendations of the working group was the establishment of a Judicial Council which would promote excellence and efficiency in the performance by judges of their judicial functions and would provide a process for investigating complaints of alleged breaches of judicial ethics.

The Chief Justice established a committee to examine the general issue and it produced its report in December 2000 (known as the Keane Report after the successor Chief Justice, who brought the Committee’s work to finality). The report concluded that the existing structures for dealing with concerns as to judicial misconduct are inadequate. It contained reasonably detailed proposals for legislation.

In 2001, the Government brought forward a Bill to amend the Constitution which related to the removal of a judge from office and provided for a body to be established by law to investigate or cause to be investigated conduct constituting misbehaviour by a judge or incapacity of a judge. That Bill was not proceeded with on the basis that no consensus could be reached in the Dáil on its terms.

The Minister’s Department proceeded to develop the Scheme of a Bill to give effect to the recommendations of the 2000 Report within the present Constitutional framework. Following consultation with the Chief Justice over a prolonged period of years, the Minister has now published the Judicial Council Bill 2010. The Bill takes into account the recommendations of the 2000 Report.

Main Provisions of the Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to establish a Judicial Council of all judges to promote high standards of conduct among judges and supports for judges. Central to the Bill is provision for effective remedies for complaints about judicial behaviour. The provisions include the establishment of a Judicial Conduct Committee with lay participation in the investigation and consideration of complaints. The Bill will formally establish the Judicial Council as an independent corporate entity with its own Board. It will facilitate the ongoing support and education of judges through the Judicial Studies Institute and by the establishment of Judicial Support Committees.

On a Judicial Council

The Bill will:

· establish a Judicial Council (Head 3) of all serving members of the judiciary which shall be independent in its functions with its own seal.
· provide for a 9-member Board of the Judicial Council (Head 8).
· set out the functions of the Judicial Council (Head 5) as being to maintain and promote
o excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions,
o high standards of conduct among judges,
o the efficient and effective use of judicial resources,
o continued education among judges, and
o respect for the independence of the judiciary
· make provision for the establishment of Committees of the Council (Head 11) and for the appointment of a Secretary to the Council under Head 16.

On Judicial Conduct

The Bill will:

· define a "breach of judicial conduct" (Head 2);
· establish a Judicial Conduct Committee comprising 8 judges and 3 lay members appointed by the Government, (Head 20) which will be independent in the performance of its functions.
· set out the functions of the Judicial Conduct Committee (Head 21) to include
o the consideration and investigation of complaints
o the preparation and submission to the Board of the Council of draft guidelines concerning judicial conduct and ethics.
o make regulations setting procedures for the consideration and investigation of complaints to be laid before both Houses.
· provide for the appointment of 3 Designated Members (Head 23) of the Judicial Conduct Committee to act as referees - one being a lay member
· allow the Judicial Conduct Committee to refer matters for informal investigations under Head 26, or alternatively, formal investigation by a Panel of Inquiry (two judges and one lay member) to be established under Head 27
· allow recommendations to be made by the Panel of Inquiry (Head 30) as may be considered necessary to safeguard the administration of justice, such as,
o issuing of advice to the judge concerned,
o recommending a course of action the judge should follow, e.g. that the judge attend a specified course,
o issuing a recommendation to the President of the Court of which the judge is a member.
o a recommendation for procedural or organisational change, or
o the issuing of a reprimand,

these being for determination by the Judicial Conduct Committee under Head 31.

· allow that the physical / mental health condition of a judge may be a matter of investigation under Head 34.

On Judicial Studies and Support

The Bill will:

· provide for the establishment of a Judicial Studies Institute (Head 12) responsible for the facilitation of the continuing education of judges including
o the preparation and distribution of bench books,
o the publication of material relevant to its function,
o the organisation of relevant conferences, seminars and meetings,
o the provision of training for judges in relation to IT, and
o the dissemination of information on sentencing.
o participation of persons with relevant expertise.
· provide for the establishment of Judicial Support Committees for the Supreme, High, Circuit and District Courts, respectively, under Head 13.