Finding Merit in Judicial Appointments: NIJAC and the Search for a New Judiciary in Northern Ireland

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The post-Agreement constitutional architecture has produced a new legal space in Northern Ireland. While the court structure has largely endured in a recognisable format there are perhaps now new expectations of how it will function in the next stage of Northern Ireland’s transition from a society in conflict. These expectations come into focus around the nature and role of the judiciary that is to oversee this new legal space. At the same time there are other, wider forces pressing upon the judiciary across the United Kingdom and these are being acted out in the various appointment commissions and regimes that have been created to modernise the judiciary. This all contributes to establishing a dynamic context for considering whether and/or how the judiciary in Northern Ireland is changing, and the forces that may be conditioning any change. This chapter looks at some of the expectations that might arise for the judiciary. It focuses both on some ideas about what might be the role of a judge in a transitional context, and the debate about how judges generally should be appointed across the United Kingdom where the idea of “merit” emerges as governing concept. Next consideration is given to how this idea of merit plays out in the Northern Ireland context and, in particular, how it impacts on the appointment of women to senior judicial roles which has emerged as the central concern in the new dispensation. Here the chapter draws on two pieces of research: the first looking at the issues surrounding judicial appointments and attitudes towards seeking such posts in the Northern Ireland context, and a second project where the idea of “merit” as a governing factor in judicial appointment was further explored in focus groups and interviews. Finally the chapter looks ahead at the challenges around judicial appointment that remain and suggests that notion of ‘merit’ has not provided the robust foundation which its proponents imagined it would.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCriminal Justice in Transition: The Northern Ireland Context
EditorsAnn-Marie McAlinden, Clare Dwyer
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherHart Publishing, Oxford
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9781849465779
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2015


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