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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. Prior to the establishment of the Judicial Studies Committee, judicial training was offered by hosting annual conferences and regular seminars and by courses provided externally. To a large extent, the premise was that a judge was sufficiently expert, on appointment, to carry out all judicial functions until retirement.  This approach has not inhibited Irish judges in carrying out their functions, but undoubtedly the approach to continuing professional development has evolved.

Since 1995, an applicant for judicial office must undertake to the Judicial Appointments Board that, if appointed, she will take such courses of training or education, as may be required by the Chief Justice or President of her court. The Judicial Studies Committee has created a new environment for the provision of judicial training and education.

A Judicial Studies Transition Group, chaired by Ms Justice Donnelly, met prior to the establishment of the Committee and produced draft Terms of Reference for the Judicial Studies Committee, to supplement s.17, which were adopted by the Council at its first meeting in February, 2020. Link here to the section, and the terms of reference are available here:- Judicial Studies Terms of Reference .docx.

 

The work of the Judicial Studies Committee

This Committee was established on the 10th of February 2020.  Its function is to provide for the continuing education of judges. A key approach to judicial training is that judges (insofar as is possible) train judges. Mindful of this international best practice, the Judicial Council specified that the appointed Director must be a sitting judge who would devote at least 50% of her working time to judicial studies.  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 highly active committee, representative of each jurisdiction, this appointment has already proved to be a key step in identifying and meeting judicial training needs.

The Director and the Committee renewed and strengthened their engagement with international judicial training facilities and will continue to foster these networks and develop new allies across the world to facilitate co-operation at a global level.

The Director and the Committee have devised a programme for training and, in collaboration with other judicial training institutions, have designed specific training courses for 2021 in line with that programme.  The Director is in regular contact with judicial colleges in Northern Ireland, England & Wales and Scotland, together with the European Judicial Training Network. In her first year, the Director focused on these urgent issues:

1. The Committee carried out an analysis of the training needs of the judiciary.  A large majority of the judiciary responded to the survey, indicating, amongst other things, their preferred content of training programmes and the method of delivery.  Most judges indicated a willingness not only to be trained but to undergo additional training (whether within or outside of working hours) in order to facilitate and develop the training of others.  The survey results have informed the content of the two conferences held online this year and will also be a vital component in the design of future conferences and training.  The needs analysis will be reviewed and updated regularly.

2. Every newly appointed judge since July of 2020 has been provided with dedicated induction training, emphasising judicial conduct and ethics, delivered by the Director. This was done in online workshops, both individually and with groups of other judges.  The delivery of training in judicial conduct and ethics has been extended to many serving judges throughout 2021 and the principles of independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality and competence are also embedded in judicial mentoring training.

3.  Mentoring training is provided by a qualified consultant who was appointed following a formal procurement process. Judges from every first instance jurisdiction have taken part in this process whereby all new judges are assigned a trained mentor.  The formal training encompasses the most effective methods of mentoring and facilitates the delivery of ‘judge led’ training to newly appointed judges.  The programme also reinforces the contents of the judicial conduct and ethics workshops.

4.  The recommendations of Prof. Tom O’Malley in his “Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences” are a priority for the Director and the Committee. The training recommended therein for the judiciary was provided to a pilot group of criminal trial judges in August of 2021. This group will also be formally trained in pedagogical methods in order to facilitate future training of their own colleagues, using similar methods and materials, so as to ensure the most effective and widespread benefits from this intensive workshop.  In this regard, the Director has engaged in consultations with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and with the Rape Crisis Network and has designed the training in consultation with the Dutch Judicial Training College.

5.  The Director and six other judges have attended judicial training courses on the digitisation of training.  The Director has been in regular contact with judges in Northern Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland and with the EJTN in this regard as each jurisdiction addressed the challenges of transforming court and training practices to enable virtual hearings and pivot from traditional lectures and workshops to providing digital training.  In this regard, two of the full jurisdictional conferences were held online for the first time, both enjoyed over 90% attendance rates with the full participation of all judges in attendance, in both questions and workshop discussions, throughout each programme.

6.  In August, members of the judiciary took part in specific workshop training in unconscious bias and in enabling vulnerable witnesses to give their best evidence.  This is in addition to the programme which was offered to judges sitting in criminal courts in line with the O’Malley recommendations.  Again, judges from all jurisdictions participated. 

7. In September, over 20 Irish judges were formally trained in pedagogical methods in order to train their own colleagues and peers.  This training was provided by experienced judicial trainers, in one case from England and Wales and in the other from the Netherlands, who have designed the courses, in collaboration with the Director, specifically for the Irish judiciary.  Judges from all jurisdictions are offered places on this programme.

In 2022, an education and training specialist will be recruited by the Council to support the Director in delivering the ambitious programme planned by the Judicial Studies Committee and the Director.

The members of the Committee are as follows:

Mr Justice John MacMenamin, (Chairperson until 9th December 2020)

Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, (Chairperson)

Ms Justice Mary Rose Gearty, Director of Judicial Studies (appointed 30th July 2020)

Ms Justice Niamh Hyland

Her Honour Judge Mary O Malley Costello

His Honour Judge Paul Kelly, President of the District Court

Judge Marie Quirke