Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Judges Remuneration) Bill 2011- Second Stage

21st September 2011

I thank the Minister and I greatly appreciate the openness in his approach to his work. I will make a brief point on the national vetting bureau Bill, which was mentioned by Senator Bradford. I welcome the Minister giving us some holiday work and I welcome his office being so open with regard to the questions I have had on the Bill. I thank the Minister.

To turn to the Bill before us, I welcome the Minister’s initiative to introduce constitutional and legislative mechanisms through which judges’ pay can be reduced in line with that of other public sector employees. It very much echoes public feeling, which the Minister has caught, and it is good that we will put this to a vote of the people. I wholeheartedly agree it is imperative to ensure that no echelon of the public sector or Irish society is immune from contributing to the betterment of the public finances. I hope a similar principle of fairness and proportionality is adopted by other Departments in their considerations for the budgets for 2012 to 2016.

Like the Minister, I commend the recently appointed Chief Justice, Susan Denham, on her decision to forego the €38,000 pay rise she is entitled to as Chief Justice until the issue of judges’ pay has been resolved. Nevertheless, I echo the concerns of a number of leading academics, practitioners and the Judiciary itself with respect to the implications of the proposed amendment as formulated on judicial independence, which forms part of the bedrock of the doctrine of separation of powers in Ireland. In its recent response to the Bill, the Judiciary maintained it is not opposed to the holding of a referendum on judges’ pay but rather with how the salary reduction should be achieved with the least interference with the principle of judicial independence. Presuming, and with no doubt about, the sincerity of this contention I ask the Minister to explain why the Bill does not incorporate a safeguard whereby a decision regarding judicial remuneration and a reduction in judicial pay is taken at least on the advice of an independent body.

In light of the debate raised about judicial independence, I also ask the Minister whether he intends to move on his previous commitment to review the system of judicial appointments.

These are the two questions I would like to put to the Minister. I will support the Bill but I ask that the Minister addresses my questions.

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