15 November 2016

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has today called on Shane Ross to put a stop to populist bombast, and focus on the real reforms needed to monitor judicial behaviour. “We need to distinguish between two rules. On the one hand, when a disciplinary hearing is being held into professional misbehaviour, it would be right and proper to have a lay majority hearing the complaint.


“That is the way the Medical Council has its hearings. Everyone acknowledges that the hearings take longer – and therefore cost more – because of lay involvement with highly technical evidence. But that is the price we pay to ensure that community standards apply in judging professional behaviour. The Bar Council’s Professional Conduct Tribunal also has a majority of non-lawyers.


“There is no reason in principle why an inquiry into judicial conduct shouldn’t also have a lay majority. After all, judges are finally accountable to the Dáil and Seanad – the ultimate panels of lay representatives.


“On the other hand, no one suggests that a lay majority should appoint our hospital consultants. Would Shane Ross seriously be willing to go under the knife of a surgeon appointed by a panel of stockbrokers or journalists? I certainly wouldn’t. The idea is absurd.


“There is quite rightly a minority lay participation in making these medical appointments, to ensure integrity and even-handedness in the process. But we all accept that, ultimately, assessing the professional experience and expertise of medical candidates must be a matter for medical professionals. That is how we appoint our doctors, our engineers, our architects and our academics. Why should our judges be appointed any differently?


“Shane Ross seems to be engaged in the same sort of anti-elitist rhetoric as the Brexit campaigner Michael Gove, who urged voters to ignore the predictions of economists by saying: ‘People in this country have had enough of experts’.


“It is an attempt at a gut-appeal, conspiracy-theory argument, without any basis in evidence. It is populist bombast, pure and simple. Any clear-headed analysis will conclude that being a judge requires expertise. And we need experts to assess the expertise of the candidates for these positions.


“In relation to the call that judges make annual declarations of interests, I believe that this would be a useful addition to the current longstanding rules. Currently, if a judge has an interest in a case and fails to declare it, the result is not just a breach of discipline but that the case, including any judgment handed down, is struck out and must be heard again by another judge. A practical enhancement to the operation of this well established principle should, I believe, be welcomed.”

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