Belfast Telegraph

New powers to probe judges' conduct

Allegations of misconduct made against any of the country's top judges can be investigated under long-awaited legislation which has been published.

A Judicial Conduct Committee will be set up to probe the actions of a judge when a complaint is not serious enough to call for their removal from office.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the Judicial Council Bill, which has been approved by Government, would also result in the establishment of a special council of members of the judiciary to promote excellence.

The Attorney General will now be asked to arrange a formal drafting of the long-awaited Bill.

"The establishment of a Judicial Council through the enactment of the Judicial Council Bill will ensure continued public confidence in judicial integrity," Mr Ahern said.

"The participation of lay persons will provide an open and transparent means of investigating complaints that heretofore have had no means of inquiry.

"The participation of all judges in the council will give the judiciary a sense of ownership of the work of the council and will ensure the independence of the judiciary is not compromised."

In any case where an allegation is deemed to be well-founded, the disciplinary process will recommend one of a range of punishments depending on the nature of the breach.

Sanctions include the issuing of advice or a reprimand to the judge concerned, a recommendation that the judge follow a specific course of action, or the recommendation of procedural or organisational change.

The Bill will also provide for the Judicial Studies Institute to be put on a statutory footing.

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