Response to Questionnaire for the Preparation of CCJE Opinion No. 22(2019)
“The role of court clerks and legal assistants within the courts and their relationships with judges”
(I) How are judges supported?
1. Yes, by Judicial Assistants.
2. To assist judges in research together with proofreading and drafting of written judgments.
3. The duties performed by Judicial Assistants are as follows:-
Discussions with their assigned judge
Memos with the summary of the facts of the case and the relevant law
Proofreading of decisions, including discussing certain points with the judge/pointing out inconsistencies etc.
Cross checking references
Administration tasks including organisation of files, correspondence with parties, preparing decisions for publication and collecting statistical data
4. They may suggest grammatical changes, rewording etc.
6. Yes, they take notes. They are precluded from asking questions of parties.
7. A full list of duties is set out in the documents attached.
8. The judge solely determines the case and the reasons for the decision.
9. The Judicial Assistant’s work does not affect the decision or the reasons, but may improve the presentation of the judgment.
10. There is no official data, but Judicial Assistants are invaluable in saving time, for example in proofreading or locating material in transcripts or other documents.
(II) Organisation of Judicial Assistants
11. Judicial Assistants are used fully by the Superior Court Judges. In addition, the Judicial Researchers’ Office is accessible to Circuit Court Judges and District Court Judges.
12. Not applicable.
13. Judicial Assistants are assigned to individual Superior Court Judges, one per judge. Thereafter they are available as a pool to District Court Judges and Circuit Court Judges under the auspices of the Judicial Researchers’ Office.
14. The Courts Service.
15. They are engaged on three year fixed term contracts which terminate after that period.
16. Judicial Assistant are not well paid and earn approximately 20% of the salary of a Superior Court Judge.
(III) Background and Selection of Judicial Assistants
18. Judicial Assistants must hold at least a 2:1 in a Law Degree at a minimum of Level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications or a professional law qualification (Barrister or Solicitor) or have successfully completed the Diploma in Law from King’s Inns.
19. They are usually straight out of university without any work experience. However, they are required to have a good understanding of the work of the Irish Courts system, a knowledge of modern online research methods, materials and databases and some experience in conducting legal research.
20. An interview plus a written examination.
21. Three years maximum.
22. They usually gain their professional qualification and then practice as a solicitor or barrister.
23. It is great experience to encounter high profile litigation from “the inside” and is regarded as great experience if they wish to become litigators.
24. Not applicable.
25. No. They wear a gown in court.
26. The position of “Judicial Assistant” was created with the enactment of the Financial Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Act 2011.
However, there is no Statute governing the status and/or duties of Judicial Assistants in Ireland.
Each Judicial Assistant is given a handbook when they start employment which expands on their duties and provides guidance on how to effectively fulfil their role. This handbook is quite comprehensive and contains sections relevant to most duties of a Judicial Assistant, with a recognition that the full duties of a Judicial Assistant will depend on the needs of the Judge.
As for internal regulation, as employees of the Civil Service, Judicial Assistants are subject to all relevant Civil Service policies, codes, circulars, rules and guidelines. However, these circulars do not detail either the status or duties of a Judicial Assistant but rather apply general standards to the behaviour and performance of Judicial Assistants as Civil Servants.
One such circular is the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour (Circular 26/2004). Insofar as it is relevant to a Judicial Assistant, the main features of that code are:-
Civil Servants must be impartial in the performance of their duties.
Civil Servants must work within the law.
Civil Servants must maintain high standards of services in all their dealings with the public.
Civil Servants are required to have due regard for public funds and property.
Civil Servants are forbidden to seek to influence decisions on matters relating to their official positions other than through established procedures.
Such circulars include, but are not limited to, Civil Service Disciplinary Code (Circular 19/2016), Civil Service Grievance Procedure (Circular 11/2001), Courts Service Computer Usage Policy etc.
27. The above-mentioned handbook includes a chapter on the ethics and behavioural standards for Judicial Assistants. This includes section on, but not limited to, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and legal activities outside of work.
As noted above, Judicial Assistants are subject to the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour (Circular 26/2004), which governs behavioural standards in a more general sense.
28. The answer provided to question 26 above is also relevant to this particular question. Note, in particular, the quoted section from the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour (Circular 26/2004).
Judicial Assistants must adhere to the Official Secrets Act 1963 (as amended by the Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003).
Judicial Assistants are contractually obliged to avoid any and every conflict of interest. Judicial Assistants are provided with a handbook which provides guidance on the ethical and behavioural standards expected of them.
(IV) General Considerations about the Support of Judges
30. Judicial Assistants play a very significant role in assisting judges to work effectively and efficiently. It would be of considerable assistance if they were better paid to make the job more attractive in the first instance and further, if there was a facility to extend their contracts beyond three years, for those who wish to extend them.
31. In Ireland, there are significantly less judges per capita as compared to other countries. As a result, there is considerable pressure on judges regarding the number of cases to be heard and the number of written judgments to be written which could be alleviated by increasing the number of judges or otherwise seeking to reduce the number of cases that end up in court e.g. increased use of mediation.
Candidates Information Booklet