Tributes paid as Ireland's most senior criminal judge retires
Published 24/04/2015 | 12:10
Ireland has a “better and more independent class” of judge now than when he started out in criminal law some 50 years ago, Mr Justice Paul Carney has said.
Mr Justice Carney, the country’s most senior criminal judge, made the remarks during his last sitting at the Four Courts today after warm tributes were paid to him in a ceremony concluding with a standing ovation.
The tributes were lead by Attorney General Máire Whelan who said Judge Carney’s important contribution was characterised by “compassion” for the ordinary citizen.
Mr Justice Carney was called to the Bar in 1966 and is among the state’s longest serving judges. Since his appointment as a High Court judge in 1991, he has presided over hundreds of civil and criminal cases, including some of the country’s most high profile rape, murder and manslaughter cases including of Wayne O’Donoghue, Michael Bambrick and of sisters Linda and Charlotte Mulhall.
He was a member of the three judge High Court which heard the case of Marie Fleming who challenged the law making assisted suicide a criminal offence.
His sometimes fraught relationship with the Court of Criminal Appeal occasionally led to controversy over sentences, including his initial imposition of a suspended sentence on Adam Keane from Darragh, Co Clare, over the rape of Mary Shannon as she slept in her home.
The judge referred to an appeal court decision when suspending the sentence but later reactivated the sentence after hearing Keane flicked a cigarette at Ms Shannon as they both caught the same train home.
The judge is also known as being a stickler for tradition and adhered to the practise of wearing the horsehair wig long after other judges ceased the practise. His reputation among lawyers is of a judge who is “tough but fair”.
In his response to the tributes, Mr Justice Carney said this was “a very black day” for him as he had worked for more than 50 years and never “pulled sickies”.
He had been involved for more than half a century with criminal law and what had changed was, 50 years ago, there was some sort of allegation of Garda brutality or similar in almost every case, he said.
At that time, judges always held with gardai regarding issues of fact and if there was a finding for the defence, it was on a technicality, he said. That had gone out of the system due to factors including a “better class of guard and a better class of judge”, more independent judges and a better class of prosecuting and defence counsel. The availability of CCTV was also important.
The judge recalled he was present when six death sentences were imposed during his career and described an atmosphere of “electricity” in the air.
He thanked the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns; his family; tipstaff Anne Solan; current registrar Mary Feerick and his previous registrars; various gardai and many others.
Judges of the Supreme and High Courts were in a packed court number four of the Four Courts for the occasion. Mr Justice Carney’s wife Margery, four children and dozens of solicitors and barristers were also present.
In her tribute, the Attorney noted Judge Carney was counsel in the seminal 1986 Kenny appeal before the Supreme Court which lead to the introduction of the “exclusionary rule” concerning admissibility of evidence obtained in breach of a constitutional right. That rule was struck down last week by the Supreme Court in a controversial 4/3 majority decision.
The Attorney said Mr Justice Carney was particularly vigilant about ensuring the trials of accused persons were fair and was also a “strong advocate” of the rights of victims. During one trial, he was hospitalised but dealt with queries from the jury from his hospital bed, she noted.
Tributes were also paid on behalf of the Bar Council, Law Society, Courts Service, media and gardai.
Bar Council Chairman David Barniville said, from a lawyer’s point of view, the judge was “simply the best”. The judge was an ardent and strong supporter of the traditional principles of the jury trial and his career was characterised by “extraordinary industry and dedication”.
To laughter, Mr Barniville said Mr Justice Carney could not always be described as “a barrel of laughs” on the bench but a media article accurately observed “Grumpy judge is not blind to victims’ plights”.
Kevin O’Higgins, on behalf of the Law Society and Dublin Solicitors Bar association, said Mr Justice Carney was instrumental in putting together a structured criminal justice system that was “fit for purpose”.
Solicitor Peter Mullen, on behalf of the DPP, expressed the Director’s appreciation for the manner in which the judge had operated the criminal justice process and thanked him for his service to the State. Mr Justice Carney was both scrupulously fair and “an innovator”, Mr Mullen said.
Assistant Garda Commissioner Donal O’Cualain said the judge’s insistence on high standards had influenced gardai.
Journalist Diarmaid McDermott, on behalf of the media, thanked the judge for his unfailing courtesy and fairness and described him as “an exemplary practitioner of the requirement that justice should not just be done but should also be seen to be done”.
Tributes were also paid by Brendan Ryan of the Courts Service and Mary Feerick, Mr Justice Carney’s registrar of nine years.