Sunday 16 December 2018

Former Chief Justice involved in X case ruling passes away

Former Chief Justice Thomas Finlay Photo: Garrett White/Collins
Former Chief Justice Thomas Finlay Photo: Garrett White/Collins
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The death has occurred of the former Chief Justice Thomas Finlay.

The 95-year-old, who served as Ireland’s top judge between 1985 and 1994 and as a TD in the 1950s, passed away peacefully at his home in Dublin earlier today.

His death occurred just weeks after one of this daughters, Mary Finlay Geoghegan, followed in his footsteps by being appointed to the Supreme Court.

Tributes to Mr Justice Finlay were led by President Michael D Higgins.

“As a member of the Supreme Court and indeed as a member of Dáil Éireann, Tom Finlay left a legacy of public service, including a robust defence of the constitution and its provisions on parliamentary privilege and citizens’ rights,” Mr Higgins said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Finlay left “an extraordinary legacy of public service” in the law and in parliament.

The chairman of the Bar Council, Paul McGarry SC, described Mr Justice Finlay as "a giant of the law".

"He was one of those people who devoted himself to public service and gave himself to the State," he said.

The former barrister and judge was involved in a number of high-profile cases during his career.

He gave the lead judgment in the controversial X case in 1992, where a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped by a family friend was allowed to travel to England for an abortion despite the constitutional guarantee that the State would protect the right to life of the unborn.

Other key decisions included another 1992 ruling which held that the confidentiality of cabinet discussions was absolute and a ruling in a case the following year which found TDs could not be sued over comments made under parliamentary privilege in the Dáil.

The father-of-five was predeceased by his wife Alice.

Born in 1922, Mr Justice Finlay was educated at Clongowes Wood College, UCD and Kings Inns, before being called to the bar in 1944.

He became a Fine Gael TD for Dublin South-Central in 1954 and but lost his seat in 1957. He was appointed a senior counsel in 1961 and became a High Court judge a decade later.

Mr Justice Finlay served as president of the High Court from 1974 to 1985 when he was elevated to the Supreme Court and appointed Chief Justice by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government.

President Higgins said he was deeply saddened to learn of Mr Justice Finlay’s death.

“As President of Ireland, may I convey my condolences to his family and friends, as well as express our nation’s thanks for his contribution to public life in so many fields,” he said.

Taoiseach Varadkar said Mr Justice Finlay “served with great distinction at many levels of the legal system in Ireland” and had served on the Council of State for over 40 years.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said that following his retirement Mr Justice Finlay undertook a number of public inquiries, most notably the Hepatitis C tribunal of inquiry.

He described Mr Justice Finlay as “an eminent barrister and jurist, respected and popular among his peers and legal colleagues”.

“Over the course of that long career his fine skills of legal analysis and his humanity were always to the fore and were brought to bear in the many significant legal cases and inquiries of public importance in which he was involved,” the minister said.

Mr Justice Finlay’s removal will take place on Tuesday morning, arriving at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook at 11.30am, follow by burial at Shanganagh Cemetery.

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