Belfast Telegraph

Judge selection process 'rigorous'

The head of Northern Ireland's judiciary has said the process for appointing judges is rigorous.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said a judge who claimed he was the victim of flawed, unfair and biased treatment during a bid for promotion was wrong.

He emphasised his respect for county court judge Desmond Marrinan during questioning at Stormont's justice committee.

But the chief justice said: "I do think that you need to be very careful not to be a judge in your own case."

Judge Marrinan has told MLAs he had outscored a rival candidate in assessments in 2009 but did not get the promotion to Northern Ireland's High Court.

He said significant changes were needed to make the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC) fit for purpose.

Sir Declan chairs NIJAC. He told the committee the merit criterion was weighted appropriately and assessed through selection tools such as an interview, case study or role play.

"Challenge and balanced judgment is a healthy part of the decision-making process.

"Invariably this will involve some adjustment of marks and perhaps a change of view by some of the selection committee on the most meritorious candidate."

The Lord Chief Justice said he had a high regard for Judge Marrinan.

"He has an excellent record of judicial service and commitment and I have the utmost personal and professional respect for him."

NIJAC is responsible for recruitment to just over 650 judicial offices. Since it was established in June 2005 around 60 separate competitions have been run.

Apart from three complaints by Judge Marrinan, there has only been one other complaint to the Judicial Appointments Ombudsman and that was not upheld.

In Scotland, England and Wales the judicial appointments bodies are chaired by lay people but Northern Ireland's nomination of the head of the judiciary, a deliberate decision by the main political parties, was designed to remove political interference.

He commented: "This self-denying ordinance by our local parties recognises we are a society emerging from conflict."

Sir Declan said his appointment to chair the committee, by virtue of his office as chief justice, represented best international practice.

He outlined the selection process for appointments, which included a series of checks and an interview to guard against a conflict of interest.

The senior judge told MLAs: "I hope this gives you a sense of the rigorousness with which we approach our selections.

"Improvements have undoubtedly been made to our processes as we have learned from experience."

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