Saturday 7 December 2019

Reformer brought compassion to job

HIS departure will be dominated by the controversy surrounding cuts to pensions, but James Hamilton's arrival at the Office of the DPP heralded a new era of openness surrounding the previously secretive public prosecution service.

That office, during Mr Hamilton's 12-year reign, displayed a willingness to listen to and address the concerns of victims and their families, aggrieved at what they perceived as an imbalance towards criminals at the expense of victims.

The high watermark of Mr Hamilton's tenure was arguably his decision, in 2007, to reverse the long-standing policy of not explaining to crime victims and their families why a case has not been prosecuted.

Fewer numbers than expected have sought reasons. But the very introduction of the scheme, which was not universally accepted, led to huge plaudits for Mr Hamilton who was praised for his compassion and progressive reform.

But as with his predecessor, Eamonn Barnes, Mr Hamilton was not immune from criticism. And the office of the DPP came under enormous pressure in recent years after a series of high-profile cases that provoked widespread debate about the criminal justice system.

The adverse reaction to the four-year sentence handed down to Wayne O'Donoghue for killing his neighbour Robert Holohan (11) in January 2005 was one such example and was virtually unprecedented in Irish legal history.

The failure to hold anyone responsible for the killing of student Brian Murphy was another.

The married father of three was born in 1949 and studied in Trinity College Dublin where he met his wife Noreen. He qualified as a barrister in 1973 and practised for eight years before he moved to the Office of the Attorney General.

Unlike other legal luminaries in the AG's office, Mr Hamilton emerged unscathed from the Fr Brendan Smyth paedophile scandal that erupted in 1994 and toppled the Fianna Fail/Labour coalition.

He went on to become the DPP in 1999.

He is president of the International Association of Prosecutors, a member of the Venice Commission and has travelled extensively monitoring elections.

His legacy will not be tarnished by his decision to retire earlier than planned.

Irish Independent

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