Editorial: Wisdom of Judge White won't be easily replaced
The announcement by Central Criminal Court judge Mr Justice Barry White that he will retire this year was well flagged. Approaching 70 years of age, his forthcoming retirement is part of the natural attrition on the bench. His departure, however, comes at a time of unprecedented change in the judiciary as the Government prepares to appoint 10 new judges to the Court of Appeal.
That wave of appointments will require a subsidiary wave of fresh appointments to fill the gaps left by senior judges and others being elevated to the new court.
Judge White is best known to the public as the judge that presided over a series of high-profile murder and rape cases.
His greatest legacy, however, may lie in his long-standing, prolific contribution to criminal defence work in his 35 years as a barrister. Successive governments have in recent years adopted increasingly harsher lines towards suspects, imposing ever-deeper cuts on criminal Legal Aid budgets and reducing legal fees. It is not popular to defend suspects.
And while we support prosecutions in the public interest, it is equally vital that we have an adequately funded criminal defence system and legal architecture that protects the vulnerable against the awesome power of the State.
At a time when we are teetering perilously close to the prospect of a US-style public defender system, it is important to acknowledge the contribution of – and continuing need for – defence lawyers and independent judges like Judge White.