On 22 July 2020, the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, announced the appointment of lay members to a number of Judicial Council Committees and nomination for appointment of lay members to the Panel of Inquiry.
The Judicial Council was established pursuant to the Judicial Council Act 2019 (the "Act"). The Judicial Council’s remit is to achieve excellence in the performance of judicial functions, high standards of conduct among judges, an independent judiciary, and public confidence in the judiciary and in the administration of justice.
The Act provides for a number of committees to be set up to deal with specific areas of work. In particular, the Act provides for lay member representation on the Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee, the Judicial Conduct Committee and Panels of Inquiry.
The Judicial Conduct Committee and the Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee were formally established by the Judicial Council on 30 June 2020. In accordance with the Act, these committees must hold their first meeting within one month of establishment and lay member participation is required at same. As such, the recent appointment of lay members is a welcomed development in progressing the full establishment of the committees to support the functions of the Judicial Council and ensures that timelines set by the Act can be met despite challenges faced by Covid-19.
The Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee is established under section 23 of the Act and is responsible for compiling guidelines designed to increase consistency in relation to criminal sentences. The guidelines will be submitted to the board of the Judicial Council for adoption following its review and any necessary amendment. A court will be required to follow these guidelines unless it is satisfied that to do so would be contrary to the interests of justice. The reasons for any departure from the guidelines will have to be stated by the court in its decision. Over time, it is expected that guidelines will be put in place for most offences including white-collar crime offences for which there are currently no judicially developed sentencing guidelines.
Where such committees exist in other jurisdictions, they have usually been established with a view to reducing disparity in sentences, and improving consistency in the exercise of judicial discretion. They formulate guidance themselves, which is presumptive in nature with departure permitted only in limited circumstances.
The Judicial Conduct Committee is established under section 43 of the Act. The Judicial Conduct Committee's function is to promote and maintain high standards of conduct among judges. Those standards have regard to stated principles of judicial conduct that require judges to uphold and exemplify judicial independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety (including the appearance of propriety), competence and diligence and to ensure equality of treatment to all persons before the courts. Section 43(3) of the Act envisages that this objective will be achieved through a number of stated functions to include consideration of complaints into the conduct of judges, taking any action necessary to safeguard the administration of justice, preparation and publication of guidelines concerning judicial conduct and ethics and drafting procedures for the processing of judicial complaints.
The Panels of Inquiry are appointed under section 64 of the Act. It is envisaged that Panels of Inquiry will conduct investigations of complaints referred by the Judicial Conduct Committee. A panel of inquiry may conduct a hearing in connection with its investigation of a complaint. A hearing of a complaint before a panel of inquiry will be conducted in public unless the Judicial Conduct Committee directs that, in order to safeguard the administration of justice, the hearing should be conducted in whole or in part otherwise than in public. Once the investigation of a complaint has been completed, a panel of inquiry will submit a report in writing to the judicial conduct committee setting out its findings. Prior to that submission, both the judge concerned and the complainant will be provided with a copy of the report and given the opportunity to make submissions if they believe that fair procedures have not, in the circumstances, been observed. Where a panel of inquiry finds that an allegation in a complaint has been proved, the recommendations for the reprimand of the judge concerned may include the issuing of advice, a recommendation as to the pursuit of a specified course of action, such as attendance at a training course and the issuing of an admonishment.
The appointments and nominations to the abovementioned Committees and Panels of Inquiry have been made independently following a Public Appointments Service selection process in accordance with the Act.
The appointments and nominations announced can be found here.
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