Sunday 18 August 2019

Judge Desmond Hogan retires with a quote: 'Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage'

Judge Desmond Hogan
Judge Desmond Hogan

Declan Brennan

Ozzy Osbourne, Oliver Goldsmith, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Lovelace and Alice in Wonderland were just some of the cultural references made during tribute speeches on the final sitting day of Judge Desmond Hogan.

The Circuit Court judge, who is from Athlone, retired today after 15 years on the bench, most of it spent sitting in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

To a courtroom packed with well wishers including Circuit and District Court judges, barristers, solicitors and courts service staff, Judge Hogan said he was immensely proud to be a member of the judiciary in a system of justice that is “manifestly fair”.

During a speech flavoured mainly by his characteristic good humour, Judge Hogan's composure faltered only once when he referred to the presence of his family at this event and at his appointment ceremony in 2000.

“They're here today and that means a lot to me,” he said, his voice choking slightly before he said that was the emotional part dispensed with. His wife Kitty, and their children John, Sarah and Padraic sat in the seats normally occupied by jurors in a criminal trial.

Judge Hogan described the State's justice system as “fair in it's conception and fair in it's continuity”. He said that being fair wasn't an easy task.

He praised the work of the gardaí and said they gave their evidence fairly. He said he had rarely heard any garda “put the boot in” and that they were more likely to tell the court to give an offender a chance.

Describing his relationship with the legal professions he said that solicitors and barristers had by now sussed him out and knew which “strings” to pull and not to pull.

“They learned to trace the day's disaster on my face,” he said, paraphrasing the Roscommon poet Oliver Goldsmith.

Praising the Probation Service as a “very, very progressive organisation” he quoted another poet, Richard Lovelace, saying: “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage”.

He said their Restorative Justice Programme, which he frequently referred to in cases he was dealing with, was not “an easy thing” to do for offenders or victims.

Judge Hogan qualified as a solicitor in 1969 and joined a busy practice in Dublin city where he remained for a number of years. He subsequently moved to the midlands where, in partnership with a number of colleagues, he conducted an extensive general practice as a solicitor until his appointment to the bench.

He was appointed to the District Court bench in 1989, and was subsequently Chairman of the Drug Court Planning Committee.

Perhaps his most high profile case in recent times was that of sex offender Anthony Lyons, a wealthy business man who attacked and sexually assaulted a young woman on Griffith Avenue in Dublin in the early hours of 3 October 2010.

The case attracted massive public attention after Judge Desmond Hogan jailed him for six months and directed him to pay the victim €75,000; money she said she did not want. The Director of Public Prosecutions appealed the leniency of the sentence and in July 2014 the Court of Criminal Appeal found the sentence by Judge Hogan unduly lenient and imposed an additional 18 months.

In 2013 the Judge found himself at the centre of a political story when it emerged that Judge Hogan had asked family law judge Mr Justice Henry Abbott about a boy at the centre of a custody battle.

In a ruling on the case Mr Justice Abbot referred to the “entirely improper interference of the mother via a political representative and a judge”. An inquiry by the presidents of the High and Circuit Courts concluded that the raising of the matter by Judge Hogan should not have occurred but that it could not have influenced Mr Justice Abbott in his decision.

Judge Hogan denied he had been solicited by any politician or any party and said there had “absolutely no intention” of interfering with the case.

Known for his quick wit Judge Hogan once told a member of the public coming into his courtroom with a can of Red bull to “to fly somewhere else”.

Before his response to many tributes, speakers mentioned the judge's courtesy amongst many other qualities. Elisha D'Arcy, speaking on behalf of the Chief Justice Susan Denham, thanked the judge for 20 years of great friendship.

Quoting a book of verses about judges, she said: “He spoke with the wisdom of Horace, but he looked a lot like David Norris.”

Matt Cahill, registrar with The Courts Service, said it had been an absolute pleasure to work with the judge and praised his unfailing courtesy and good humour.

He noted his ability to settle a jury with humour and joked about Judge Hogan's often repeated and sometimes mixed up references to films such as “49 Shades of Grey (sic)”.

Judge Hogan said he was looking forward to exploring the “big bright brave world” now without “the velvet wrapped shackles of privilege”. He said this new found freedom may involve having a pint in his local.

He said this privilege was there for the protection of the system so that people knew they were going to get a fair trial and a judge could not “be got at”.

He had no intention of being bored in his retirement, he said. “Boredom is an attitude of mind. I'll just sit and think, and sometimes I'll just sit”.

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