Dáil Éireann - Volume 428 - 30 March, 1993

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Appointment of Lay Magistrates.

6. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice the consideration, if any, she has given to the possibility of legislating for the appointment of lay magistrates.

[1084] Minister for Justice (Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn): I have no proposals to introduce legislation providing for the appointment of lay magistrates.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Would the Minister agree, without any disrespect to the members of the Judiciary, that most judges come from a privileged background and live in parts of the city and the country which are not areas of serious conflict and problems and, therefore, are not acutely aware of the problems people face and are not equipped to deal with problem of vandalism? Would she further consider that asking the community to take part responsibility for dealing with these problems would be a democratic and beneficial process?

Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I would not agree that judges come from privileged backgrounds. All of us are aware that many of them are former solicitors who have an intimate knowledge of their districts and have been dealing with people at all levels within the society in which they operated as solicitors. Secondly, getting lay members of the public to act in a judicial fashion would create certain constitutional difficulties which, I am sure, the Deputy is well aware of. A number of Articles in our Constitution deal with the courts, in particular Articles 34 to 37. Article 35.3 states clearly that no judge can be in receipt of any payment, other than the payment received as a member of the Judiciary. If we were to incorporate the practice in Northern Ireland and in the UK in relation to lay magistrates the Constitution would have to be changed to allow them to retain their ordinary employment.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Can the Minister tell the House if her Department has studied the magistrate system in any other country? Would she agree that very few judges appointed to the courts are from, say, the electoral area I represent in Dublin Corporation — Crumlin, Tallaght or such places? Will the Minister agree that judges tend to be if not of the Dublin 4 postal district certainly of the Dublin 4 [1085] type? I am not talking about the higher courts where a high level of knowledge of the law is required but of the lower courts where they simply do not understand the pressures people are under resulting from acts of vandalism perpetrated against them in the communities in which they live.

Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I would not accept that all the members of the Judiciary, particularly those serving in the District Court and the Circuit Court, come from the Dublin 4 area. Many of us know a substantial number of judges in the various districts and in the Circuit Court regions who are not from that particular area. I do not accept what the Deputy is saying.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling Question No. 7.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I did not get an answer to the other part of my question. I asked the Minister whether her Department had studied the magistrate system in any other jurisdiction.

Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I said we had no proposals in the Department. Certainly, I have no proposals to introduce such a system.

An Ceann Comhairle: Question No. 7, please.