Chief Justice Susan Denham has said the judiciary's position on judicial reform has been misrepresented in recent public discussion.

Speaking to the National Judges Conference this weekend, the country's top judge said the judiciary had been requesting change in the judicial appointments system for years.

She also said she had appointed a review group to address the matter and that representatives of the group met Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Transport, Sport and Tourism Shane Ross last week.

Mr Ross has described judges as masters of delay who resisted changes to the system for the past 20 years.

Mrs Justice Denham hit back at suggestions that the judiciary was responsible for the lack of progress in reforming the system of appointments to the bench.

She spoke of five years of efforts by the country's judges to have the process reformed and made more transparent.

The Chief Justice said inaccurate discussion and misrepresentation of the judiciary's position had been a feature of recent public discourse.

She said it was "surprising" that it had been stated that the judiciary was fighting change, when the opposite was the case.

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Mrs Justice Denham said the judiciary had given an extensive written submission to the Department of Justice more than two years ago advocating a merit-based appointment system where a limited number of people would be recommended to Government.

Mr Ross this morning repeated his view that judges must not continue to lead "charmed lives" where they are unaccountable and impossible to remove from their positions.

The Independent Alliance Minister told RTÉ News he would be very keen to get the judges’ reaction to his proposals for a declaration of interest, the same type of declaration that politicians have to make.

Judges, he said, are impossible to remove and there has to be "serious judicial reform".

He said he heard what the Chief Justice had to say about reform but he believed they were talking about different types of reform.

He said the judiciary still wanted judges appointing judges, but Mr Ross said he wanted a new system with the power to appoint members of the judiciary taken out of the hands of politicians and judges.

Speaking later on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Ross said judicial reform legislation is a major step and he said serious reform has been met with an enormous amount of opposition in the past.

He said that the Government is still drafting the bill on judicial reform, adding he is still in negotiations with Fine Gael on the matter.

"We've had talks with the Attorney General and indeed with some judges in recent days and that's the only thing that is delaying things.

"The Programme for Government is agreed with Fine Gael. It's in the drafting, is going to be a very long, very complicated and very serious bill. It's a major step which has met enormous amount of opposition in the past."

Minister Ross said he has no intention of holding up judicial appointments, but reform legislation is necessary first.

He said he and Fine Gael want a new system with the power to appoint members of the judiciary taken out of the hands of politicians and judges, but there is opposition from the judiciary, Mr Ross said.
"The judiciary wish to change the appointment being in the hands of the politicans to being in the majority of the hands of lawyers, legal people and judges.

"And that is a difficulty because I see that as wrong. I don't see any point in taking it out of the hands of the politicans and giving it to the judges to appoint people themselves."

He said judges do not seem to want to declare their financial interests, adding that this is very important.

He said a declaration of interest is not in the Programme for Government and he said he is still discussing this with Fine Gael, saying "it's not a matter of huge contention."

He said the contention is coming from the judges.

"We've got to breakdown this kind of mystique surrounding judges and this has got to into the bill," Mr Ross said.

Draft legislation to be submitted to Govt

In a statement, the Department of Justice said the intention was that Ms Fitzgerald would submit draft legislation to reform the judicial appointments system to Government in the coming weeks.

It said the draft legislation would include measures to replace the current Judicial Appointments Advisory Board with a new Judicial Appointments Commission.

The statement added that it would provide for the commitments in the Programme for Government regarding the composition of the Commission - including a reduction in its membership, an independent chairperson and a lay majority, including independent people with specialist qualifications.

It said it would provide that the Commission would recommend a reduced number of people to the Government for a judicial vacancy, also in line with the programme for Government.

It would also include all judicial appointments within the remit of the Commission - including the promotion of serving judges.