The European Commission has expressed unease over the proposed new judicial appointments body in Ireland.
As part of its country review of economic and social priorities for Ireland, the Commission was critical of the new body for not having enough representation from lawyers on it, with just five of seventeen members set to be existing judges.
The European Commission said the new body - which will have a "lay" chair who will be accountable to the Oireachtas - does not meet European standards.
It writes: "The envisaged composition of a new body for proposing judicial appointments raises concerns regarding the level of participation of the judiciary.
"The proposed composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission, which - according to the amended proposal - would comprise only five judges out of 17 (including a lay chairperson 'accountable to the Oireachtas') would not be in line with European standards (Council of Europe, 2010) and with the recommendation of the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (Group of States against Corruption, 2018) which require that an independent and competent authority drawn in substantial part from the judiciary be authorised to make recommendations or express opinions which the relevant appointing authority follows in practice".
The Commission is also critical of under-resourcing of the Court of Appeal, and says a shortage of judges has led to a backlog of cases building up, leading to delays in the administration of justice.
It says: "As to efficiency, the Court of Appeal, set up in 2014, has a considerable backlog and appears to be under-resourced as regards the number of judges.
"A draft Bill providing for an increase in their number has been approved by the government. In follow-up to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in McFarlane v Ireland, a compensation scheme aimed at awarding damages in the event of protracted court proceedings, and to be based on statute, is under preparation."
The report is also critical of delays and inaction in reducing the cost of legal proceedings in Ireland. And it says the high cost of legal fees is harming Ireland's reputation as a good place to do business - especially for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
It notes: "The cost of enforcing contracts remains the weakest point for doing business in Ireland (Doing Business rank 102nd). High attorney fees are a major factor explaining these high costs in 2017 after higher than average rises in previous years.
"The high price of legal services shows the importance of removing the barriers to entry and competition in the market for legal services. It is particularly harmful for SMEs which, unlike larger firms, cannot internalise these services. Therefore, the high cost of enforcing contracts impairs their ability to use the judiciary system for dispute resolution."
It also believes the high cost of legal fees may be impacting on the use of insolvency mechanisms in Ireland, pushing businesses into liquidation: "The Irish insolvency framework is very efficient with a high recovery rate, short proceedings and facilities for restructuring. However, the cost of legal services is relatively high and the number of cases is relatively low. This may lead to inefficiencies resulting from the choice of the liquidation mechanism in case of insolvency."