Purpose of the Act
The purpose of the Judicial Council Act is to establish a Judicial Council which is independent in the performance of its functions and promotes and maintain excellence and high standards of conduct by judges. It will also provide a means of investigating allegations of judicial misconduct and, in this context, a Judicial Conduct Committee, which will have lay representation, will be established. Furthermore, it will facilitate the ongoing support and education of judges through a Judicial Studies Committee and through the establishment of Judicial Support Committees. A Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee will prepare draft sentencing guidelines, while a Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee will prepare draft personal injuries guidelines.
The Judicial Council is dependent in the performance of its functions. Its functions of the Judicial Council include promoting and maintaining excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions and high standards of conduct among judges. Other functions include promoting and maintaining the efficient and effective use of judicial resources, continuing education of judges, respect for judicial independence and public confidence in the administration of justice.
The Council has the powers necessary for the performance of its functions, including the power to delegate some of those functions to a committee. Certain functions, such as the adoption of guidelines concerning judicial conduct and ethics, are reserved to the Council, as are the adoption of personal injuries guidelines and of sentencing guidelines.
Membership of Council
The Chief Justice shall be the chairperson of the Judicial Council, that the President of the Court of Appeal shall be its vice- chairperson and that the Council will comprise the entire judiciary.
The Judicial Council shall hold such and so many meetings as may be necessary for the performance of its functions but in each year shall hold at least one meeting, the first of which shall be held not later than three months after the establishment day. There are provisions for the quorum for a meeting, and with chairing and voting arrangements.
There is a Board of the Council (the Board) which, may regulate its own procedures. The election of the first elected members of the Board will take place at the first meeting of the Council. Its functions which the Board performs, on behalf of the Council, are set They include determining policy in relation to the performance of the Council’s functions, submitting proposals, recommendations or reports to the Council in relation to any of the functions of the Council, and reviewing draft guidelines concerning judicial conduct and ethics prepared by the Judicial Conduct Committee, draft personal injuries guidelines prepared by the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee and draft sentencing guidelines prepared by the Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee.
The membership of the Board numbers eleven in total – the Chief Justice and the Presidents of each court, five elected members and one co-opted member. The Act sets out the duration of the term of membership of the Board which, in the case of an elected member, is a term of four years, renewable once.
The frequency of meetings of the Board (at least four during any one year) is provided, as well as the quorum for a meeting, and the chairing and voting arrangements.
The Council may establish such and so many committees as it thinks fit to assist and advise it in the performance of its functions. This is in addition to the Committees which are separately provided for
- a Judicial Studies Committee
- a Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee
- a Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee
- Judicial Support Committees
- Judicial Conduct Committee
There is a Judicial Studies Committee by the Council, the function of which is to facilitate the continuing education and training of judges with regard to their judicial functions.
Personal Injuries Guidelines
There is a Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee by the Council, the function of which is to prepare draft general guidelines as to the level of damages that may be awarded or assessed in respect of personal injuries. The Committee was required to submit the first draft of personal injuries guidelines to the Council not later than 6 months after its establishment.
It is required to review the guidelines every 3 years and to submit draft amendments to those guidelines where the review indicates that this is warranted.
The Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee consists of seven judges.The duration of the term of membership of the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee is four years, renewable once.
The Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee includes the preparation of draft sentencing guidelines, the monitoring of the operation of sentencing guidelines and the collation and dissemination of information on sentences imposed by the courts. The Committee which consists of eight judges and five lay members.
The Public Appointments Service recommends persons who are suitable to be appointed as lay members of the Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee. The duration of the term of membership of the Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee four years, renewable once.
Not later than 2 years after the provision comes into operation, a review was to commence of legislation which provides for the imposition of minimum sentences for offences. It also sets out the broad parameters for that review. A report on any findings of the review is to be made to the Oireachtas not later than 12 months after its commencement.
Judicial Support Committees
There are to be Judicial Support Committees at all court levels by the Council. Their function is to advise and assist the Council in the performance of its functions under the Act insofar as matters relevant to the Court to which the Committee relates are concerned.
There is provision for payment of allowances for expenses to judges who are members of the Board or a committee (other than the Judicial Conduct Committee) and the payment of remuneration and allowances for expenses to lay members of committees other than the Judicial Conduct Committee.
The Chief Justice may appoint an interim Secretary to the Council pending the appointment of the Secretary. The functions of the Secretary in addition to other functions assigned under the Act, include the management and control of the staff of the Council and the administration of the Council and its committees.
The Council shall provide an annual report to the Minister for Justice and Equality of its activities, which the Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.
There is provision for attendance by the Secretary before an Oireachtas committee other than the Public Accounts Committee (or the Committee on Members’ Interests of Dáil Éireann or the Committee on Members’ Interests of Seanad Éireann, or a sub-committee of those Committees. The Secretary is required to account for the general administration of the Council but is not required to account for matters such as the exercise by a judge of his or her judicial functions.
There is obligation not to disclose confidential information obtained while performing specific functions as, for example, a member of a committee of the Council. Unauthorised disclosure is an offence which, on summary conviction, carries with it a penalty of a class A fine, i.e., a fine not exceeding €5,000.
The Judicial Council is to notify the Courts Service of decisions made or actions taken concerning the performance of the functions of the Courts Service.