Public to get a say in choosing Ulster judges

07/09/2004 - 07:25:43

The public is to be given a say in the selection of judges in Northern Ireland under wide-ranging reforms to the selection process announced today.

A new Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission will be established by next summer and take over responsibility for appointing and recommending candidates up to and including High Court judges.

Currently the Lord Chancellor is in charge of the process of making judicial appointments, following recommendation from the Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Kerr.

From next summer Lord Chief Justice Kerr will chair the new commission and sit with 12 others – five of whom will be members of the public – to make the appointments.

Applications for the lay members are being sought from people with “knowledge of managing human or financial resources, knowledge of the court system or experience in policy development,” said the Court Service.

The new system was welcomed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer.

He said in Belfast: “I believe the commission will help to further enhance public confidence in the justice system by its independence from government by using open, transparent and accountable processes to recommend appointments to the judiciary solely on the basis of merit.”

The commission will ensure a range of people reflective of the community in Northern Ireland is available for consideration for appointment to judicial office, he said.

Lord Falconer added: “The lay members, who are not judges or lawyers, will bring real value to the commission’s work.

“Those from outside the legal profession, bringing a range of skills from different backgrounds in society, have a real and important contribution to make in the selection of judges in Northern Ireland.”

Encouraging those interested to apply – by October 1 – he said: “This is a new and important development in one of the most vital elements of our democracy.”

The 12 people who sit with Lord Chief Justice Kerr will include:

:: A Lord Justice of Appeal.

:: A High Court judge.

:: A county court judge.

:: A resident magistrate.

:: A lay magistrate.

:: A barrister nominated by the General Council of the Bar in Northern Ireland.

:: A solicitor nominated by the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

:: The five lay members.

Both lay and professional members will be paid £294 (€434) a day and be expected to serve for about 24 days a year – providing a total remuneration of just over £7,000 (€10,300) a year.

Lord Chief Justice Kerr said it was crucial people of the highest quality and commitment were attracted to the commission.

Their role would be “pivotal in ensuring that we have a judiciary that will not only discharge its solemn duty to the highest possible standards, but will also command the confidence of the public”.

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