New Judicial Council will defend judicial independence and the rule of law

Mr Justice Frank Clarke
Mr Justice Frank Clarke

The new Judicial Council will “authoritatively assert judicial independence and respect for the rule of law should it ever come under threat”, Chief Justice Frank Clarke has told its inaugural meeting.

The entire Irish judiciary attended the plenary meeting at the King’s Inns this morning, where the country’s most senior judge outlined its important role in an “increasingly complex legal environment”.

Mr Justice Clarke noted that the rule of law and independence of judges “has come under threat in other jurisdictions”, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to the erosion of judicial independence in Poland.

He said: “It is the job of judges, under the Constitution, to administer justice and thereby come to a fair decision in accordance with those laws which are enacted by the Oireachtas. We do justice but we also do it in accordance with law.

“Not every result will, therefore, be popular. But it is not our job to be popular but rather to do justice in accordance with law.”

Although Ireland “retains a significant respect for the rule of law”, Mr Justice Clarke said judges “should not assume that such a state of affairs will necessarily continue unless it is supported”.

He added: “This is the first time that there has been a formal body comprising the entire judiciary of Ireland as its membership and which will, therefore, be in a position to authoritatively assert judicial independence and respect for the rule of law should it ever come under threat.”

The new Judicial Council, established under legislation enacted in December, takes on responsibility for the establishment of guidelines regarding sentencing; setting standards of conduct for the judiciary and dealing with complaints regarding same; establishing and providing ongoing professional education for the judiciary; and examining and making recommendations regarding personal injury awards.

Some elements of its work had previously begun, with the Chief Justice appointing “members designate” of the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee last November to allow them to carry out “planning and preliminary work”.

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