Sunday 21 October 2018

Controversial judge who is not afraid to speak out

Judge Paul Carney, the only judge permanently assigned to the Central Criminal Court
Judge Paul Carney, the only judge permanently assigned to the Central Criminal Court

JUDGES are normally repelled by media scrutiny. Paul Carney appears to revel in it.

The High Court judge's constant media "shows" -- as a result of colourful and controversial commentary both on and off the bench -- lead many unsuspecting punters to believe that he is the only criminal judge in town.

To a large extent he is, and much of the media coverage that engulfs the High Court judge relates to his extensive and arduous caseload.

Judge Carney, as the "listing judge" of the criminal division of the High Court and the only judge permanently assigned to the Central Criminal Court, hears seven out of every 10 rape cases and over half of all murder trials in the State.

It is a fraught and emotional task and fodder for public debate, ensuring that he rarely strays from the headlines.

Indeed, such is the intensity of the trials that he presides over, that Judge Carney has privately indicated that he would like to be relieved of rape and murder cases, expressing a desire to try complex fraud trials instead.

That one judge alone should should hear a majority of the most heinous crimes in the country is a cause of concern -- he has presided over 100 murder trials -- and a clarion call, if one were needed, for more judges to be appointed by the Government.

Called to the bar in 1966, Judge Carney became a senior counsel in 1980.

But his high-flying career has been dogged by controversy, much related to his decisions in rape trials; his provocative remarks during extra-judicial outings and his thinly and not so thinly veiled attacks on the Court of Criminal Appeal which frequently analyses and overturns his rulings.

Judge Carney has addressed the controversial issue of victim impact statements before. Four years ago, he incurred the wrath of rape victims when he accused the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre of a "serious abuse of process".

The judge took issue with a victim impact report prepared by a senior counsellor at the DRCC, which stated that the severity of the sentence imposed would determine the degree to which the victim became re-conciled with the justice system.

Credibility

Judge Carney told the DRCC to "leave campaigning aside" when dealing with the courts, and advised it that it should maintain its credibility with "measured, considered and judicious" public statements.

The outburst provided ample media coverage, as did remarks during one trial that a woman had been raped "every which way possible". In another rape case, he described events leading up to a woman's rape as a "West End bedroom farce", causing great distress for the victim.

Unlike many judges, Paul Carney frequently attends and speaks at extra-judicial events such as conferences and lectures.

Five years ago, during an academic lecture, he won widespread acclaim over a proposal to fuse the offences of manslaughter and murder and replace them with one of "unlawful homicide".

Often, he is forced centre-stage because his rulings are appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Last year, it issued Judge Carney with a rebuke for failing to allow the jury in the Padraig Nally murder trial to consider a "truncated" defence of self-defence. Mr Nally's conviction was subsequently quashed.

Ironically, the CCA upheld the sentence that Judge Carney handed down to Wayne O'Donoghue and supported his view that victim impact statements could not be used to subvert the sentencing process.

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