ADVERTISEMENTS are appearing in the Irish Republic's national media, inviting members of the legal profession interested in becoming judges to submit their CVs for consideration.
So far, 15 vacancies have been advertised: three in the Supreme Court, two in the High Court, seven in the Circuit Court and three in the Disctrict Court.
The first appointments under the new system will be announced soon. They will be closely scrutinised by those critics who feel it falls short of the public transparency needed in choosing judges.
In the past, such appointments were made by the Government behind closed doors. Political patronage was a major factor, with the party or parties in power often favouring luminaries from among those regarded as supporters.
New legislation was designed to make the appointments system more publicly accountable. It established a Judicial Appointments Advisory Board to interview candidates and make recom- mendations, following advertisements for all vacancies.
Advisory board members include the Attorney General, the Chief Justice, presidents of the courts, chair of the Incorporated Law Society, president of the Bar Council and three nominees of the Justice Minister. The board cannot make appointments, it can merely recommend “suitably qualified” candidates to the Minister.
Also, for the first time, solicitors can be appointed judges of the Circuit Court and, after a four-year stint there, to the benches of both the High Court and the Supreme Court. But the change has created strained relations between the Law Society and the Bar.
The society had pressed for solicitors, currently restricted to District Court posts, to be made eligible for appointments to all courts. It had the support of all members of the parliamentary committee examining the legislation.
But, following represesentions from the Bar, Justice Minister Nora Owen limited appointments to the Circuit Court, with a four-year “apprenticeship” required for further promotion.
She has established a working party to examine if all court posts should be opened to solicitors.