The Minister for Justice has now published the General Scheme of the Judicial Council Bill, which has received the government’s approval. The next step is the Attorney General to prepare a formal draft of the Bill. The Bill proposes the establishment of a Judicial Council, more than a decade after the establishment of such a body was recommended in 2000 in a detailed proposal by the then Chief Justice Keane.
Under the Bill, it is proposed two separate bodies will be established, a judicial conduct committee with lay participation to consider complaints against judges, and a judicial council, composed of all members of the judiciary, which will promote high professional standards, continued education and independence. A range of sanctions are available depending on the nature of any finding of misconduct.
High profile incidents such as the unsuccessful prosecution of ex Circuit Court Judge Brian Curtin for possession of child pornography in 2004 have highlighted the need for a process of dealing with judicial misconduct. Following the unsuccessful prosecution, an Oireachtas Committee was established to consider the removal of a judge for ‘stated misbehaviour’, the only constitutional basis in Ireland for removal of a judge from office, which had never before been invoked. Judge Curtin ultimately tendered his resignation before the Committee had completed its deliberations.
Legislative developments aside, there are also practical changes to be made before the proposed Council will be fully effective. The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Kearns has highlighted the need for the provision of suitable audio recording facilities in all courts so that complaints can be properly and adequately referenced. Until this happens, the long wait for a judicial council is not over.