From top: Michael McDowell and Shane Ross
On Today with Sean O’Rourke, hosted by Cormac Ó hEadhra.
Former Attorney General and former justice minister Michael McDowell spoke to Mr Ó hEadhra about Transport Minister and Independent Alliance TD Shane Ross’s Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.
The bill will see non-legal members of a commission have the majority say on judicial appointments.
From the interview…
McDowell: “Shane Ross is driving this particular policy, it’s not a Fine Gael policy. He is driving it from a personal conviction based on an unfortunate experience he had in the courts himself. That the judiciary exercised their powers and are appointed on the basis of cronyism. That unfortunately is a gross untruth. And, secondly, it’s seemingly to create a problem that doesn’t exist. Our judiciary…”
Cormac Ó hEadhra: “Well, hang on, Shane Ross would obviously contest what you have said there…”
McDowell: “Well, sorry, all you have to do, Cormac, is look at his book, the Scroungers [sic, it’s Wasters]. And look at the venom towards the judiciary which he exhibits in it himself, and his son-in-law Nick Webb wrote this book. A whole chapter. No let me finish. A whole chapter of it is devoted to attacking the judiciary and suggesting that they operate or are appointed on the basis of cronyism. That is not true.”
Ó hEadhra: “Is it not about perception? Is he not trying to break down at the very least, the perception that some hold in this country, that when it comes or when it did come up to now anyway, to appoint the judges, some people perceived that political affiliation counted..”
McDowell: “Well, can I tell you this? I was minister for justice, I was attorney general from 1999 to 2002 and minister for justice from 2002 to 2007. And Rory Brady was the attorney general during the period that I was minister for justice. And during that period, in relation to the appointments to the superior court, I can say with absolute certainty that the great majority of the people who we appointed were people who, if they had political affiliations that were known, were not the affiliations of the two Government parties. We appointed people who, as far as I knew in the majority, were, had been in the past…”
Ó hEadhra: “Are you saying it was never a problem?”
McDowell: “No, I’m saying it has never been a significant problem and I believe that what is going on here with Shane Ross is effectively demanding a change in the way the Government approaches the appointment of judges based on a personal agenda of his which is not representative of what has happened in the past and which is not true.”
Ó hEadhra: “Ok, I’ll leave him to answer that question that you hold up against him but this bill, if you return to the bill for just one second. It’s not as if Shane Ross, or anybody else in Fine Gael either is proposing a bill that you take five or six random people off the street and ask them the considered judges, you will still have, by my understanding, three judges and the attorney general and some lawyers on this new appointment board – that’s still a significant cohort of legal expertise, is it not?”
McDowell: “There will be a minority of people on the new commission who know something about the administration of justice but the commission will be chaired by a person and it will have a majority of members who are chosen on the basis that they have nothing to do with the administration of justice. And that, I think, is entirely wrong. And the second point I want to make to you is this: that when it comes to promoting say, somebody from the High Court or the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, the idea of having a commission advise the Government which of the 35 or 40-odd High Court judges or 8 or 10 judges of the Court of Appeal, should be in the Supreme Court is fundamentally flawed. That is a decision for the Government of the day…”
Listen back in full here