Sunday 21 January 2018

Women dominate legal elite in Supreme Court move

Justice Mary Laffoy
Justice Mary Laffoy
Judge Elizabeth Dunne

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

TWO female High Court judges have been nominated by the Government to the Supreme Court, ending Chief Justice Susan Denham's spell as the only woman on the country's highest court.

The gender balance on the Supreme Court became skewed in recent years after the retirement of judges Fidelma Macken and Catherine McGuinness.

But the Government has nominated Mary Laffoy and Elizabeth Dunne to the Supreme Court, a move designed to clear a four-year backlog on it.

The appointments are a major boost for women lawyers, who are dominating senior positions in the legal field.

Judge Laffoy is the former chair of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, who won widespread praise when she resigned her position in 2003 amid claims of a lack of government co-operation.

Judge Dunne, whose landmark 2009 ruling in a series of mortgage actions forced the Government to close

a loophole in repossessions law, is highly regarded for her expertise in debt and banking law.

Four of the most senior justice positions are, for the first time, now held by women, including that of Chief Justice Denham, Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus, Attorney General Maire Whelan and Chief State Solicitor Eileen Creedon.

Irish lawyer Patricia O'Brien, Ireland's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, until recently held the top legal post at the UN and two of Ireland's 'magic circle' law firms are headed by female solicitors.

The Supreme Court will temporarily swell from eight to 10 judges. But with Mr Justice Nial Fennelly set to retire before May 2014 and former Chief Justice John Murray expected to follow suit, the court will revert to its current number.

Judges normally retire at 70, but Judge Laffoy, aged 68, will be able to serve until she is 72 as she was appointed before 1996 when the new retirement age rules came into force.

Last night the Irish Women Lawyer's Association welcomed the appointments.

"I am pleased to hear that the Government has nominated such erudite and excellent judicial women," said IWLA chair Maura Butler.

The Government, which plans to hold a referendum in October to establish a permanent Court of Appeal to reduce delays at the Supreme Court, said the appointment of two new judges to it would allow the overburdened court to sit routinely in two divisions.

Female barristers are set to outnumber their male counterparts in less than 10 years.

And if current education trends continue, the Law Library will be "predominantly female" within a decade, according to the new chairman of the Bar Council of Ireland, the representative body for barristers.

Irish Independent

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