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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Calls for Republic of Ireland to create a register of judges’ interests – Senator to table motion on “culture of openness & transparency” for judiciary

25 Oct

Ireland’s Parliament to hear motion calling for judges’ register. THE REPUBLIC of Ireland’s Parliament – the upper house Seanad of the Houses of the Oireachtas – will be the setting for a motion calling for Ireland’s judiciary to be subject to a full register of interests, similar in nature to widely backed proposals currently being investigated by the Scottish Parliament – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The Irish Times recently reported on moves to create more judicial transparency in Ireland, led by independent Senator Victor Boyhan – who intends to table a motion calling for the introduction of a register of judges’ interests to “foster a culture of openness and transparency”as well as confidence –  in the judiciary.

At present in Ireland, as is in Scotland, there is no requirement for members of the judiciary to declare their interests.

Court users in Ireland must, like those in Scotland, rely on a system of archaic oaths written by the judiciary – where judges promise [themselves] to execute their office “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will towards any man”.

The proposal by Senator Boyhan – to increase judicial transparency in the Republic of Ireland come after Ireland’s top judge – Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham – recommended the establishment of a judicial council – first suggested by the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Ethics in 2000.

The creation of such a council for Ireland, would be similar to the ruling Scottish Court & Tribunal Service Board – the powerful judge-led legal vested interests quango which controls Scotland’s courts and must approve all policy or changes in relation to how courts and tribunals function.

Proposals currently on the table envisage the membership of any newly created ‘Judicial Council’ in the Republic of Ireland would consist of the Chief Justice and ordinary judges of the Supreme Court; and the Presidents of the High Court, Circuit Court and District Court and ordinary judges of those courts.

The Judicial Council will be tasked to “develop a code of conduct for judges, as well as oversee and support their training and develop a complaint structure for litigants” and promote “excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions”.

Speaking to the Irish Times, Senator Boyhan said the Government should introduce such a council, as well as a judicial appointments commission, promised in the programme for government, and intended to reform the selection of judges.

He called for a consultation process to begin with the judiciary on the establishment of a register of interests for judges. “I, personally, would be uncomfortable if a judge was a member of a Masonic lodge, for example, or other secret society, and I think that should be declared, as should shares in financial institutions,” he said.

Mr Boyhan said, in the UK, judges have been found to have conflicts of interest in some cases.

Earlier this week, Senator Boyhan gave a speech in the Irish Parliament on the creation of a Judicial Council: Senator Victor Boyhan – Creation of Judicial Council

A report by Diary of Injustice last week revealed links between Scotland’s current top judge – Lord Carloway – who opposes a judicial transparency register – and members of Ireland’s judiciary.

A Freedom of Information disclosure from the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) revealed details of a junket taken by Lord Carloway and Lady Dorrian to Ireland – to meet senior figures of the judicial establishment in 2014 – IT’S DUBLIN, M’LADY: FOI probe results in Judicial Office adding Lady Dorrian to Lord Carloway’s ‘research’ junket on Ireland’s criminal justice system

A programme for the visit also revealed Lord Carloway met up with two senior Irish judges in a Chinese restaurant to discuss the ‘efficiencies of courts’.

And a powerful editorial in The Sunday Times newspaper of 28 June 2015, supports the creation of a register of judicial interests in the Republic of Ireland.

The editorial states: “Ireland, as a nation, is a great deal more sceptical than it used to be, hardened by corruption in the body politic, irresponsible behaviour on the part of banks, and appalling revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. There are a few professions, however, whose reputations have emerged largely unscathed from the non-stop diet of negative news engulfing the country for the past decade. The medical profession, teachers and professors consistently score highly with the public. So does the judiciary, and that is why potential conflicts of interest involving judges is an important issue.

The Sunday Times has identified a number of judges who hold shares in companies traded on the stock exchange. There is no law preventing judges from holding investments, nor should there be, but we are long overdue regulations requiring them to declare their interests and those of their close family members. We know from experience that conflicts of interest do arise.”

Within it’s editorial, the Sunday Times – a powerful supporter of transparency alluded to further evidence access international jurisdictions – where asset declaring registers for judges already exist.

The editorial continued: “We cannot think of a single reason why judges should not be required to sign up to a register of interests in the same way that elected politicians must make public their interests through the Standards in Public Office Commission. Indeed, Ireland is a laggard in this regard. Of 137 jurisdictions surveyed by the World Bank, almost 58% had asset-declaration regimes in place for all levels of judges and prosecutors.

Judges, quite rightly, are independent of the executive, so any system of asset declaration would most likely be self-regulating. So long as a register was transparent, robust and available for scrutiny by the public, this should not be an issue.

The ideal base for such a register would be the long-promised Judicial Council. An interim council has been established but the coalition has not prioritised legislation that would formalise the body. This delay does the profession a disservice. The Judicial Council is a priority, as is a judicial register of interests that would copperfasten the profession’s reputation for operating to the highest ethical standards.”

Editorials from Scottish Newspapers have also featured judicial transparency supporting editorials on proposals to create a register of judicial interests in Scotland – available to readers here: Sunday Mail – No justice if it cannot be seen and here: Sunday Herald – Judges should not be above scrutiny

HOLYROOD PROBE ON JUDICIAL INTEREST REGISTER CONTINUES:

Scotland’s top judge – Lord President Lord Carloway has been invited to appear before the Scottish Parliament to face questions on his opposition to proposals requiring the judiciary to declare their interests.

The invitation to Lord Carloway has been issued by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who are conducting a four year investigation on a proposal calling for judges to be required to declare their vast and varied interests including their backgrounds, personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land interests, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

A full debate held at the Scottish Parliament in October 2014 saw MSPs from across the political spectrum support a motion backing the judicial transparency proposals, reported with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges

A recent report on Lord Carloway’s opposition to judicial transparency can be found here: Top judge Lord Carloway hits out at judicial interests register proposal.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

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