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Chief Justice Denham favours alternatives to prison

THE Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has said she favours alternatives to prison for criminals as a way of reducing repeat offending.

In a rare interview, Ms Justice Susan Denham, the first woman to hold the position, also said one of the biggest changes in the legal profession she had seen in her 40 years' experience was the increasing number of women pursuing careers in law.

Speaking on RTE's 'Nationwide' programme, Ms Justice Denham said: "It's very unfortunate when people have to go to prison but I'm in favour of alternatives. For example, in our drugs court, a young person goes into a programme instead of going into prison."

She explained that they were then supervised by the probation office for 18 months "where they are off drugs and are monitored and where they enter into either an education system or else they take up a job".

And she said they graduate at the end of the programme and that "far fewer of them repeat than others who have been in prisons".

She gave presenter Mary Kennedy a tour of the Four Courts and the new Courts of Criminal Justice.

About the beginning of her career 40 years ago, she said it was "daunting and challenging" for her as a young barrister to enter the Four Courts.


And she added that a "major difference" then was that "the court would be packed with 100-plus people and I would often be the only woman."

The programme also featured 96-year-old barrister Maurice Gaffney SC, who has practised law for almost 60 years.

He too noted that there were more women in the profession than when he began his career in 1954 and said there was also an increasing prevalence of cases involving planning law, family law and legal actions surrounding refugees.

Attorney General Maire Whelan described Mr Gaffney as "an institution" and "a delight to work with".

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Mr Gaffney said he had no plans to retire, saying: "It keeps me going, it keeps me alive.

"You're always learning from your colleagues. That is the most wonderful feature of this."

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