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Statement on the first meeting of the Judicial Council

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I think it is fair to say that Ireland has been a State where the rule of law has broadly been respected and where the independence of the judiciary, which is a vital ingredient of respect for the rule of law, has been supported.

I also think that it is fair to say that the Irish judiciary has observed high standards and has broadly commanded public respect. It would be impossible to expect that the public, or indeed the parties to litigation, would agree with every decision that every judge takes. It is the job of judges, under the Constitution, to administer justice and thereby come to a fair decision in accordance with those laws which are enacted by the Oireachtas. We do justice but we also do it in accordance with law. Not every result will, therefore, be popular. But it is not our job to be popular but rather to do justice in accordance with law.

But even if Ireland retains a significant respect for the rule of law and even if our judges continue to perform their duties conscientiously and well, we should not assume that such a state of affairs will necessarily continue unless it is supported. We have seen that the rule of law and the independence of judges has come under threat in other jurisdictions. In an increasingly complex legal environment, with much greater pressures than have applied in the past, maintaining the highest standards of excellence becomes a greater challenge. It is in those circumstances that I particularly welcome the fact that the entire Irish judiciary is here today for the first meeting of the Judicial Council which, as you know, consists of each and every judge of every jurisdiction. This is the first time that there has been a formal body comprising the entire judiciary of Ireland as its membership and which will, therefore, be in a position to authoritatively assert judicial independence and respect for the rule of law should it ever come under threat.  

First meeting of the Judicial Council
The judiciary at the first meeting of The Judicial Council, 7th February 2020

But public respect for the judiciary is an equally important component in maintaining the rule of law. By providing mechanisms to enhance judicial education and training, to promote and enforce judicial ethics, to encourage measures designed to increase consistency and, importantly, to provide support for judges in the context of what is often a very challenging role, this Judicial Council can play a vital role in promoting the excellence for which we all strive. 

But in my view it will also, for the first time, allow the judiciary as a whole to speak with a single voice on issues of genuine importance to us. Much of the nuts and bolts of the work of the Council will, of course, be done through committees, some with lay membership in accordance with the legislation, and one of the most important functions of this first meeting of the Council will be to establish those committees. The important detailed work will then follow.

But, as the saying goes, even the longest journey starts with a single step. This first meeting of the Judicial Council represents that first important step on what is likely to be an ongoing journey designed to protect the rule of law and the independence of the Irish judiciary but also to enhance public understanding of and respect for that judiciary through promoting excellence.