Minister Flanagan announces the formal establishment of the Judicial Council
- Minister hails historic day for the Irish judiciary
- Commencement order is signed at the Four Courts in the presence of the Chief Justice
Dec 17 2019
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has signed the commencement order for the Judicial Council Act, allowing the Council to formally come into being.
The establishment of a Judicial Council is a major landmark development in the history of the Irish judiciary, formalising a number of very important judicial functions. These include:
- Provision for the continuing education of judges through the Judicial Studies Committee
- The creation of Guidelines for awards in Personal Injuries cases through the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee
- The creation of Sentencing Guidelines through the Sentencing Guidelines Committee
- The creation of a judicial code of conduct and the introduction of mechanisms for dealing with complaints
The first full meeting of the Judicial Council will take place in the first week in February. However, aspects of the Council’s work have already been actioned. The Chief Justice, last month, appointed a Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee designate, chaired by Ms. Justice Mary Irvine, to allow it to commence preparatory work.
Since the passing of the Act, officials in the Department of Justice and Equality have been working closely with the Courts Service to lay the groundwork for the Council through the provision of an Interim Secretary and the allocation of a budget of €0.25m in 2019 and €1.25 million in 2020.
Minister Flanagan said:
“I am a longstanding supporter of the creation of a Judicial Council and it is a great personal privilege for me, as Minister for Justice and Equality, to have introduced this important legislation. Ireland has been particularly fortunate in the high quality of its judges and I know the Council will play a critical role in maintaining public confidence in our judiciary and maintaining the high standards of excellence for which our judiciary is renowned.
I want to especially acknowledge the work of the Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, in moving very quickly to ensure that the Judicial Council could hit the ground running once I signed the formal Commencement Order. Great credit is due to him and, indeed, to his predecessor, Ms. Justice Susan Denham, who did so much to advance support for the creation of the Judicial Council.
I also want to acknowledge the widespread support on all sides in the Houses of the Oireachtas for the Judicial Council Act. I believe the Judicial Council will be of great benefit to all the people of Ireland, given the exceptionally important role of the Judicial branch of Government in all of our daily lives.”
Speech by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, at the launch of the Judicial Council
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Ladies and gentlemen,
It means a huge amount to me to be with you all tonight
Members of the judiciary,
to mark the establishment of the Judicial Council. I am delighted to be here.
Indeed I feel very honoured that it fell on MY watch, as Minister for Justice and Equality to introduce the legislation, which has led to this landmark moment in the history of our State.
In just a few moments I will have the privilege of signing the Order, which will establish the Judicial Council. How fitting it is that that will be done in the location where the Constitution was first presented to the Supreme Court in 1937.
I’ve heard it said this Act was a long time in the making. Indeed I have said so myself. And it’s true. The thinking behind what has become the Judicial Council Act, which was passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas in July, goes back a full 20 years.
But even a very long wait can be worthwhile if at the end of it, you get things right. In this Act, I firmly believe we have got things right.
As you all know, it started out in 1999, in large part, as a way of promoting high standards of judicial conduct.
And it will do that through a Judicial Conduct Committee which will include both judges and lay people.
I have to say, that based on my own experience of the good work of the judiciary I don’t see this Committee as being overburdened with cases. However, I am at the same time satisfied that it is absolutely necessary to have it in place.
The Act also makes provision for a properly resourced and effective Judicial Studies Committee.
I suspect the current Judicial Studies Committee would agree with me if I said, due to staffing and resource issues, it struggles to provide comprehensive induction, training and Continuous Professional Development to judges. But in these days of rapid change and development, such supports are essential, for any professional, in any walk of life. Judges are no different. And so I know it will be of great comfort to all the members of the judiciary, and to the rest of us, to know that judicial training is getting the status, the funding and the recognition it deserves.
Of course one thing all good training, in any profession, can deliver, is a level of consistency.
We need to know there is a solid basis on which a judge makes a decision. A framework within which he or she is working.
That is where the sentencing guidelines come in. The Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee will have the job of preparing guidelines to which a judge must adhere unless he or she is satisfied that to do so would not be in interests of justice. And if a judge does depart from them, the reason why, must be given in the judgment.
I think this provision will go a long way to reassuring all of us that not only is justice being done, but it is being seen to be done, all of the time.
So these are the committees which are to be set up … and with the time frames for them set down in the legislation, the clock really starts ticking on them now, as the Council is established….
But as we await them, I do want to give special mention to the Committee which has in effect already been established.
I have to admit that just a few short months ago I would never have imagined that the Judicial Council would have a role in tackling the high costs imposed on members of the public by insurance companies. However, the Personal Injuries Commission, which we established, identified the possibility of the new Council taking on the role of developing guidelines for damages in personal injuries awards cases and so I introduced amendments to give effect to that.
Now we all know that insurance costs are a big issue. There was further evidence in the report published yesterday by the Central Bank. My personal view, which I have articulated many times is that a large part of the problem is excessive profit taking on the part of the insurance companies.
But we must still address any other parts which may exist…. And that is where the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee will come in.
I want to thank the Chief Justice for taking this one on with such alacrity and I am delighted to hear that the Committee designate, chaired by Ms. Justice Mary Irvine, has already met to begin planning its important work. It will compile guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury, addressing inconsistency in awards while acknowledging that each case should be judged on its own distinct merits.
I do believe the new Committee will help achieve a greater consistency in levels of damages awarded. But I do want to emphasise again that I believe it is just one piece of the jigsaw, just one of the things Government can do. Fundamentally it is still the case that there is a major responsibility on the insurance industry to provide consumers with insurance options which are based on fair and honest analyses, at reasonable costs.
I look forward to the industry doing that. And I also look forward, very much, to seeing all of the work programme the Judicial Council makes provision for, being established. As I said, it has been a long time coming. But it’s here now. I believe it is fit for purpose and I am proud of the progress and professionalization it represents in the way we deliver justice in this country.
I want to congratulate the Chief Justice, Mr. Frank Clarke, his colleagues in the judiciary, the interim secretary to the Judicial Council, Mr. Kevin O’Neill and the officials in my own Department who have worked very effectively to establish it since the legislation was passed in July. I am sure you will agree that this bodes very well for the ambitious programme of work to be carried out by the Council and its Committees to fulfill their mandate. I have every confidence that this will be carried out with diligence and to the highest standards.
I will now proceed to sign the Establishment Order before handing you over to the Chief Justice, Mr. Frank Clarke.