Minister keen to see more women in senior judiciary as reforms are outlined

Helen McEntee said the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2022 will bring about the biggest reforms in 30 years.
Minister keen to see more women in senior judiciary as reforms are outlined

By Cate McCurry, PA

The Minister for Justice has said she wants to see more women taking up senior judiciary roles as she unveiled a Bill to reform the process of appointing judges.

Helen McEntee said while there has been a “significant change” in the number of female judges in recent years, she stressed the need for greater equality.

Ms McEntee said the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2022 will bring about the biggest reform in the last three decades.

Among the measures in the Bill is the requirement that all candidates for judicial appointments go through an interview process and have undergone judicial training or continuous professional development.

The changes will mean all candidates will undergo the same application and interview process.

There is also a requirement that the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) publishes a diversity statement relating to the objective that membership of the judiciary should reflect the diversity of the population as a whole.

The Bill will see only three people recommended for an appointment, instead of five, with an additional two recommendations for a second and additional vacancies. It would mean seven recommendations for three vacancies.

Only those who are recommended by the commission will be appointed.

The commission will be chaired by the Chief Justice and will include four lay members recommended by the Public Appointments Service, four judges and the Attorney General.

The Bill also provides that one female and one male judge be submitted for each of the two Judicial Council nominees.

The Bill also provides the names of all those who apply for a judicial vacancy are forwarded to the minister along with recommended names. This is for information purposes only.

 

Launching the Bill, Ms McEntee said she wants to see the make-up of the judiciary reflect the diversity of the population.

“I would like to see that, 50 per cent of our population are women, so I think if judges are going to reflect that, then we should see greater equality,” Ms McEntee said.

“Now we’re starting to see that, I think in recent years, we’re starting to see closer to 50/50 in many of our courts.

“What I’m also trying to make sure is that the commission itself is quite reflective. So, the Chief Justice, obviously I can’t determine who that is, but the appointments to the judiciary, one will have to be a man, one will have to be a woman.

“The commission itself, while it might not be 50/50, there will be significant moves to make sure that is the case.

The Four Courts, Dublin
Ministers are looking for a better gender balance in courts (Niall Carson/PA)

“I would like to see that their (commission) statement very clearly sets out an ambition insofar as possible to reach that equality.

“I do think we’ve seen a significant change. I myself have advocated for barristers, in particular female barristers, to put themselves forward for positions that have arisen in recent times.

“If you look at the current make-up of the various different courts, from the District right up to the Court of Appeal, we are starting to see a better gender balance and that is something I have been very conscious of in my own appointments.”

She said she expects the Chief Justice to takes diversity into account when putting forward recommendations.

Ms McEntee said that if there is no change in the diversity of judges, then legislation could be brought in to address the issue, but said she does not expect that to happen.

The Fine Gael Minister said the recommendations will not be numbered because the Constitution sets out that it is the Government who appoints judges.

“While, yes, there is an element of discretion, all three of those names will come through a very rigid process, all three will have to go through interview, and so there will be that element of discretion,” she added.

“This Bill will bring about the biggest reform in judicial appointments in about 25 years.

“We have a fantastic judiciary, but there is also room for improvement, particularly in the selection process, and this Bill will bring about change.”

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