Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Monday, 14 May 2012 14:31 UK

Report on the review of judicial appointments

There should be no changes to the current process for judicial appointments and removals in Northern Ireland at this time, the justice committee has recommended, on 14 May 2012.

Its chair Paul Givan proposed a motion calling on the assembly to approve the committee's report on a review of judicial appointments.

The 2009 Northern Ireland Act made provision for listed judicial office holders to become primarily the responsibility of the Lord Chief Justice, rather than the first and deputy first ministers.

"Having considered the evidence received and taking account of the fact that the Department of Justice and Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC) are of the view that the arrangements created by the 2009 act, while only in place for a relatively short period of time, appear to be working satisfactorily, the committee has recommended that there should be no change to the current process of judicial appointments and removals at this time," Mr Givan said.

He added there were some matters that would merit further consideration and these would be undertaken in a further review.

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott said he wanted the independence of the process to remain but said he did not want a two-tier system where the judiciary and lay people within NIJAC were of completely different opinions.

The SDLP's Alban Maginness said the change from political involvement towards a neutral stance "was done for very understandable reasons".

"The appointment of judges has been moved to an independent body, and I think all of us in this house are supportive of that," he said.

Stewart Dickson of the Alliance Party said he believed NIJAC was "doing a good job".

However, he raised concerns over the lack of female representation, particularly in the senior appointments.

"Appointments should be made on merit and I believe there are as many women as there are men in the judicial system, who should be, and are capable of holding these positions," he said.

The TUV's Jim Allister said it was not a perfect situation that judges were appointing other judges but felt it was "by far the best arrangement which is attainable".

"I would shudder at the day the OFMDFM (Office of the First and Deputy First Minister) or the Department of Justice would have the power to make these appointments," he said.

Winding the debate, Sinn Fein's Jennifer McCann said there was also a "glaring gap" with appointments from ethnic minorities.

The motion was passed on an oral vote.

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