Wednesday 28 September 2016

The loves of his life: Yvonne, the law and history

Hugh O’Flaherty

Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30

Judge Adrian Hardiman. Photo: Collins
Judge Adrian Hardiman. Photo: Collins

I had known of Adrian's formidable reputation on his call to the Bar in 1974. He had been auditor of the famous UCD debating society, the Literary and Historical Society, as well as being president of the Students' Union. That was a rare double.

  • Go To

However, I was worried that he intended to marry so young and at the outset of his working life. So I consulted with Judge Frank Roe - he was the only other one to have held the two prestigious offices, auditor and president. I told him about this brilliant young man who will have a terrific future in law, but asked is he wise to marry so young. Frank gave the clearest answer: of course he should marry and not end up an old bachelor like me!

That was that dilemma solved, and so, he and Yvonne set out as a formidable team: family, legal, political and literary.

Starting off at the Bar having scaled the heights of student politics can be a daunting experience. But for Adrian, it marked a seamless progression. He was an exceptional orator but also a fine legal tactician. He knew that a good cross-examination does not require to be cross, but it needs to be learned and astute.

The Shakespearean actor, Sir Ralph Richardson, used to say that the thing about being a professional at anything is that you are always afraid. He meant that the professional was always seeking perfection.

Adrian was certainly a seeker of perfection, but he knew no fear, or, if he did, he did not show it in the cases that he appeared in as a barrister.

As a judge, Hardiman's opinions were always clear and succinct. I know that the opinion of certain attorneys general is often cited as the reason for the people's rejection of the effort made by the outgoing government to reverse the Supreme Court decision in the Abbeylara case. But I believe that Hardiman's reasoning in the case was the decisive factor: you cannot have politicians pronouncing that citizens are guilty of crimes. That is exclusively for the courts under the doctrine of the separation of powers, which is embedded in the Constitution.

His judgments were particularly trenchant whenever he thought the rule of law was endangered. A chief bastion to protect the rule of law is the requirement that there is a presumption of innocence. Here is what he had to say in an extra-judicial article that he wrote recently for the Dublin Review of Books:

"Every person is presumed to be innocent, so if an investigation or trial simply fails to resolve the issue beyond reasonable doubt, the suspect or defendant is entitled to the benefit of the presumption. But this can be a hard thing for some people to accept.

"In sexual cases particularly, even old ones, such people seem inclined to think that the accuser is to be believed. Thus Hillary Clinton in January (last) declared that every accuser was entitled to be believed. Asked whether this entitlement extended to the women who had made allegations against her husband and, in at least one case, against herself, she amended her statement orally, at a raucous election meeting to 'Everyone is entitled to be believed at first until they are disbelieved... after evidence.' Mrs Clinton is a lawyer of some experience.

"This conflict of feeling, which is shared by more people than Mrs Clinton, has radically undermined the presumption of innocence and has given rise... to a climate of opinion in which some people, and some institutions, postpone or forsake the idea of bringing an accused person to trial, which carries the possibility of acquittal, preferring instead to use the powers of the criminal law to subject such people to public shaming so intense that it can destroy their lives."

If the law was Adrian's first love, history and literature ran a close second. I remember I once gave a very superficial talk on James Joyce and the law at a Joyce symposium. In due course, Adrian came along and did a huge archaeological-like dig into Ulysses and other works that did proper justice to Joyce's interest in the law - which was considerable.

I know he was engaged in expanding his researches into a book and I was looking forward to its publication with intense interest.

Just a few weeks ago, Adrian gave a masterful account of what was, in fact, the show trial of Robert Emmet in the very courtroom at Green Street, where Emmet had been tried.

He was taken too with the career of Daniel O'Connell, and had spoken at the O'Connell School held in Cahersiveen and Derrynane every autumn.

Adrian had a loyal following in the United States, too. At his passing, the Irish American Bar Association of New York issued a statement: "It is with great sadness that we learned of the untimely and premature passing of the Honourable Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman of the Supreme Court of Ireland.

"A celebrated barrister before he was appointed directly to the Court in 2000, at just 48 years of age, he was recognised as one of the great legal minds of the Supreme Court of Ireland.

"Justice Hardiman has left his mark on both the practice of law, and the law of the land with a number of important decisions, and our profession will be forever poorer for his passing.

"A dear friend of the association, he was the keynote speaker in 2012 when he delivered the John Quinn memorial address at the association's Bloomsday celebration, celebrating James Joyce's Ulysses".

The message concluded with condolences to Yvonne and family.

I am proud to have played a small part at the start of Adrian's distinguished career and have relished his friendship ever since.

Many years ago, I attended the wake in Listowel of that fine actor Eamonn Keane, who also met an untimely death. There, too, was Bryan MacMahon, senior, who had been a mentor of Eamonn's. He was utterly devastated and forlorn bemoaning the loss of an outstanding talent.

Last week, I truly learnt of the extent of the trauma that he was going through.

Hugh O'Flaherty is a former Judge of the Supreme Court.

Sunday Independent

Read More

Promoted articles

Don't Miss

Editor's Choice