About the Judicial Studies Committee
The provision of a modern training programme is an essential element in ensuring that the members of any profession deliver to their full potential. Since 1995, an applicant for judicial office must undertake to the Judicial Appointments Board that, if appointed, they will take such courses of training or education, as may be required by the Chief Justice or President of their court.
The Judicial Council Act 2019 provided, for the first time, a statutory basis for judicial education and training. Section 17 of the Act sets out the role and responsibilities of the Judicial Studies Committee in overseeing the education and training of the judiciary. In preparation for the establishment of the Committee, a Judicial Studies Transition Group, chaired by Ms Justice Donnelly, drafted a Terms of Reference for the Judicial Studies Committee. These were adopted by the Council at its first meeting in February 2020.
The Terms of Reference for the Judicial Studies Committee supplement and expand upon Section 17 of the Act. The Terms provide for the appointment of a Director of Judicial Studies and specifies that the appointed Director must be a sitting judge who will devote at least 50% of their working time to judicial studies. This is in line with international best practice where a key approach to judicial training is that it is judge-led i.e., judges (insofar as is possible) train judges. In July of 2020, the Board appointed Ms. Justice Mary Rose Gearty of the High Court following a competitive interview process. In addition to a very active committee, representative of each jurisdiction, this appointment proved to be a key step in identifying and meeting judicial training needs.
The Terms of Reference also provide for the appointment of a full-time Associate Director of Judicial Studies to support the Director. In October 2022, Maria Fitzgerald was appointed to this position and joined the staff of the Judicial Council. The Associate Director has been active in expanding the induction and mentoring courses, in collecting data to assess training needs and in preparing a strategic approach to ensure the sustainability of judicial training.
Over the past three years, these developments created a new environment for the provision of judicial training and education in Ireland.
The Judicial Studies Committee
This Committee was established on the 10th of February 2020. Its functions are to provide for the continuing education of judges in relation to matters of law, ethics and conduct, human rights and equality, judgecraft and information technology. The Committee is committed to maintaining public trust in the judiciary and the administration of justice by delivering appropriate, effective, and timely training. The training is based on the core values and principles set out in the Guidelines for the Judiciary on Conduct and Ethics, including independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality, competence, and diligence.
The promotion and protection of the core value of judicial independence in judicial training is fundamental to the training and education programme and is inherent in the commitment to providing high quality, judge-led training. The establishment and maintenance of communications with national and international agencies in judicial education and training is a key objective of the Committee.
The Committee commenced its statutory tasks at the start of the Covid Pandemic. From mid-2020, with the appointment of the first Director, she and the Committee conducted a training needs analysis and identified key priorities for training and for jurisdictional conferences. A number of courses became an early and urgent focus: training of judicial trainers, including digital and workshop training, induction and mentoring for new judges, and developing and delivering essential courses such as ethics. In 2021 and 2022, additional courses were developed and, in 2023, existing programmes were reviewed and updated and further programmes developed in response to legislation, societal changes and scientific advances.
The Director and the Committee developed strong links with other judicial training colleges in the UK; the Judicial Studies Board of Northern Ireland, the Judicial College of England and Wales, and the Judicial Institute in Scotland. The Dutch Judicial Training Institute (SSR) and the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) provided extensive planning support, advice and training. Through collaborations with these bodies, international best practice was embedded in the education and training provisions offered to the Irish judiciary from the outset.
In 2023, with the assistance of the Associate Director, the Committee developed the Judicial Studies Committee Workplan 2023-2026 to set out a strategic approach to training and ensure sustainable programmes. This plan highlights four key priority areas: developing and delivering training programmes, ensuring adequate resources and supports, establishing policies and procedures, and raising awareness of the importance of judicial education and training. This plan is underpinned by a detailed Annual Action Plan, which is a dynamic document that will be reviewed and updated as necessary.
The members of the Committee are as follows:
Mr Justice Brian Murray
Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, (Chairperson)
Ms Justice Nuala Butler
Ms Justice Niamh Hyland
Her Honour Judge Mary O Malley Costello
His Honour Judge Paul Kelly, President of the District Court
Judge Marie Quirke, (Vice Chairperson)
Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Director of Judicial Studies (ex officio, appointed 31st October 2023)
From 2020, the Director designed and developed a series of regular courses for the judiciary and the programme was delivered, initially, with the support of volunteer trainer judges from every jurisdiction and expanded further with the appointment of the Associate Director in 2022. The initial courses included Judicial Conduct and Ethics, Avoiding Re-traumatisation, Unconscious Bias and Vulnerable Witnesses, Induction and Mentoring. By 2022, courses in Coercive Control and Assisted Decision-Making had been developed and in 2023, Personal Insolvency and Judgment Writing courses had been added to the list of regular courses. All programmes and relevant materials have been reviewed and reflect feedback, new requirements, or best international practice. In 2022, approximately 87% of Irish judges across all jurisdictions had engaged in at least one such programme and by the end of July 2023, this number had increased to 91% of the judiciary.
Judicial Conduct and Ethics is delivered as part of the induction for newly appointed judges and as part of continuing professional education for serving judges. The Director delivers this online programme covering the core principles of independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality, competence and diligence. Materials are updated regularly and include case law, articles and reports in which relevant concepts are discussed and reports on challenges to independence arising in other jurisdictions. At annual conferences and Judicial Council meetings, the delegates consider and discuss commonly arising ethical issues. In 2023, the Ethics programme was expanded to include a programme of training facilitated by LIFT Ireland. This involves a month-long commitment for every participating judge to regular meetings in small groups, to facilitate and encourage deeper reflection on the values of integrity, honesty, respect and equality.
Inherent in judicial training is the importance of judge-led training. This is recognised internationally as best practice and was seen by the Director and the Committee as being a fundamental component of excellent training. Tailored Train the Trainer programmes were designed and delivered by the Director, in conjunction with other judicial training organisations, to provide Irish judges with the knowledge, skills, and competence to deliver judicial training. By the end of 2023, a total of 25 judges had trained as judicial trainers and are qualified to design and deliver training programmes unique to the Irish judicial context. Throughout 2022 and 2023, these judicial trainers devised, delivered, reviewed and updated the programmes described below, in consultation with the Director and Associate Director.
Building on the programme developed in 2021 in collaboration with the Kings Inns, the Unconscious Bias programme was reviewed and extended in 2022 when it featured a module in relation to court translation for serving judges. The Access to Justice report on the Travelling Community has been disseminated to all participants and to all new judges since the report was published and is discussed at all courses. The aim of this training programme is to help judges to identify potential areas of unfair bias, to question and contradict stereotypes and develop a deeper understanding of people whose experiences are different from theirs. The course forms part of the Induction Programme for nominee judges. The programme was updated again in 2023 using material from the Judicial Council of California and introducing participation from members of Traveller Culture Awareness Training, one of whom delivered the main presentation at the most recent course.
Avoiding Re-traumatisation is a workshop course for serving criminal trial judges which ensures that they develop a deeper awareness of the victim's experience in court in sexual offence cases. This was an early priority for the Director in response to the Victims Directive and the Criminal Law (Victims of Crime) Act of 2017 which implements the Directive. It was also a timely response to the O’Malley Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences. This report recommended that vulnerable witnesses receive better protection in court, including a recommendation that judges receive relevant training. Judicial training across Europe has incorporated training as a result of this Directive, reflecting an international consensus on the obstacles faced by victims of violent crime when giving evidence in court and how the courts can counter these obstacles while vindicating the right of the accused to a fair trial. The programme focuses on developing judges’ understanding of victims’ experiences in sexual offence cases and explores ways in which the trauma, which inevitably re-emerges for victims during a trial, can be reduced. This course was initially devised by the Director in collaboration with the Dutch Judicial Training Institute (SSR), and included early consultation with the Rape Crisis Network, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and One in Four. Speakers from these organisations remain a key feature of the course, along with an interactive court-based scenario for the judges to allow practical work on the concepts discussed. The course is offered twice a year, to serving criminal court judges in every jurisdiction.
Since September 2020, all nominee judges participate in an Induction Course before their appointment to the bench. This course has a very practical focus and allows nominee judges to sit in court and deal with challenging situations, assisted by a group of more experienced colleagues. The programme covers court room dynamics, procedural justice and managing court hearings fairly, efficiently, and courteously. All new judges undertake this training, along with the Judicial Conduct and Ethics workshops. In 2022, the induction training was expanded to include a course on high conflict situations and in 2023, the unconscious bias module was added to the training programme for new judges. With the implementation of the recommendations of the Judicial Planning Working Group Report and the anticipated increase of the judiciary, the Committee will further expand the Induction programme for newly appointed judges.
A Mentoring programme has been available to newly appointed judges since 2021 to support them during their first year. The mentors are experienced judges who have undertaken tailored mentoring training. By the end of 2022, a total of 24 experienced judges had trained as mentors. The support, while formal, is flexible in order to meet the needs of the new judges, both personal and professional, when they are first appointed. In 2023 this programme was expanded to include mentee training for the new judges with 10 judges participating in the pilot in May and a second programme in September 2023.
In 2022, the Committee introduced a pilot programme on Coercive Control, designed by the Director with the assistance of Women’s Aid. This collaboration focused on deepening the understanding of the concept of coercive control for the participating judges. This course was reviewed by the Director and delivered by Irish judicial trainers in September of 2023. The aim of the course is to ensure wide judicial understanding of the concept of coercive control and its impact on victims and on children, while ensuring that any such issue is considered impartially and all decisions remain evidence-based. The format of the training provides for the discussion and analysis of the relevant legal provisions, psychological research and emerging case law.
The Assisted Decision-Making Act 2015 introduced a presumption of capacity for all. In anticipation of its commencement, the Committee offered Assisted Decision-Making conferences and seminars to judges, which focused on the change in culture brought about by the Act and the impact and application of the new legislation. This included discussions of the existing wards of court regime and the changes brought about by the new legislation on assisted decision-making. The 2022 sessions featured expert speakers and detailed discussions to support judges to conduct capacity hearings fairly, efficiently, and transparently in line with the new legislation. The programmes in 2023 expanded on the requirements of the legislation, court procedures, and emerging issues arising from the initial cases coming through the courts.
The Personal Insolvency course was introduced in 2022 to provide Circuit Court judges with additional supports in this area. The course includes a review of the law in relation to personal insolvency, discussion of the practical issues and of the relevant case management system with experienced colleagues, ensuring that judges are familiar with the relevant law and with the case management system for this list. The Circuit Court Conference in March 2023 offered a further opportunity for training in this area and a modified programme has been offered to newly appointed Circuit Court judges in September 2023.
The first practical Judgment Writing course was designed and delivered by the Director with the assistance of Irish judicial trainers in August of 2023, having devoted one of the jurisdictional conferences to the topic in 2021. Judges from the Circuit Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, took part in the 2023 course to discuss best practice in preparing written judgments and appropriate responses to data protection and privacy issues. Judges also worked from a hypothetical case to compare different approaches to the same facts and to explore how a different target audience might affect the content or tone of a judgment. This course will be offered annually.
A practical short programme titled Laptop, Lists and Litigation was piloted in 2022 with a focus on the key IT tools and systems used by judges. During 2023, the Courts Service have been updating their case management systems as part of their Modernisation Project and the Director has been working with the Courts Services to assist them in developing appropriate and effective judicial training in IT skills. This training will continue in 2024.
The Committee provides ongoing support to judges to enhance and maintain their Irish language skills through lunch-time Irish conversation classes every fortnight. In addition, judges may participate in evening programmes and have the option to attend an annual immersive Gaeltacht residential programme.
The Court Conferences have continued with greater emphasis on identifying themes and on coordinating the topics chosen across all conferences and jurisdictions. There are four conferences annually, supported by the Director, the Associate Director and the Committee. In addition to legislative changes, topics covered in recent years ranged from the Rule of Law with visiting Polish judges providing unique insights, to presentations on resilience and trauma by leading medical experts. In 2023, conferences topics included DNA evidence, the voice of the child, and Experts and Evidence, which was the theme of the most recent jurisdictional conference.
The Director and Associate Director established a series of Wednesday evening seminars which began in 2023 and has featured online presentations by colleagues on recent cases from the Irish Supreme Court and from the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Central to the development and delivery of judicial education and training programmes is collaboration with other agencies. The Dutch Judicial Training Institute (SSR), the Judicial College of England and Wales and European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) offer ongoing guidance and support. The Judicial Institute for Scotland and the Judicial Studies Board of Northern Ireland have also provided valuable contributions. More recently, links have been established with the Judicial Commission of New South Wales and the South African Judicial Education institute. Senior judicial trainers from the Judicial Council of California, the Judicial College of England and Wales and from Ontario, Canada have joined Irish judges for various training programmes.
Members of the Committee, the Director and Judicial Council staff attended events in various jurisdictions including the UK and Ireland Judicial Studies Conference and the EJTN General Assembly. In 2022, the Director presented a session at the International Organisation for Judicial Training (IOJT) in Canada.
In September of 2023, administrators from the Courts of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) made a series of presentations to a group of judges from the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the Circuit Court about the work of the Court and discussed the logistics and the law in relation to National References to the CJEU.
Irish judges regularly attend international training conferences as participants, speakers, or session chairs. In 2023, these included training events organised by the EJTN, the EUIPO, and by the Academy of European Law (ERA), the Anglophone-Germanophone Family Law Judges’ Conference, the International Federation of European Law Conference, the Four Jurisdictions Conference and the European Circuit Annual Conference.