Tuesday 22 May 2018

Obituary: Mr Justice Paul Carney, Judge and academic

Born April 27, 1943; died September 23, 2015

Larger than life: Mr Justice Paul Carney was a colourful and controversial character who had a somewhat eccentric liking for archaic courtroom traditions
Larger than life: Mr Justice Paul Carney was a colourful and controversial character who had a somewhat eccentric liking for archaic courtroom traditions

Not unique among the Irish judiciary, Mr Justice Paul Carney was a larger-than-life, colourful and sometimes controversial character. However, he was also one of the leading legal figures in this country for several decades, and has been remembered with fondness and genuine respect by the profession, since his death last week at the age of 72.

Born in Dublin, Paul Carney came from intellectual stock: both his parents were academics, and founded a Department of Celtic Studies at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. His own education, which included a stint in Uppsala, took him to Gonzaga College, University College Dublin and finally King's Inns.

Incidentally, he would later make a return of sorts to academia, being appointed Adjunct Professor of the Faculty of Law in University College Cork in 2006, and two years after that, Adjunct Professor of the Department of Law & Business at NUI Maynooth.

Carney was called to the Bar in 1966. His practice as a barrister encompassed criminal and civil law, and for both prosecution and defence. He was appointed a judge of the High Court in 1991, and established a reputation as one of the leading experts on Irish criminal law. As a judge, he was seen as being hard but fair, albeit while also possessing a somewhat eccentric partiality for archaic traditions of the court.

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

He presided over hundreds of civil and criminal cases during his lifetime as a judge. These included several high-profile and notorious murder, rape and manslaughter trials, including those involving Michael Bambrick, Wayne O'Donoghue, Padraic Nally, the Limerick gang feud of the last decade, and the so-called 'Scissors Sisters' Linda and Charlotte Mulhall.

He was also a member of the three-judge High Court which heard the case of the late Marie Fleming, the multiple sclerosis sufferer who made a legal case for the right to assisted suicide in 2013. Carney and his fellow judges declared in their statement that Marie's testimony had "humbled and inspired" them.

There were some controversial moments down the years, such as the fact that he continued to wear the old-style horsehair wig - after most of his colleagues had abandoned it - and insisted that barristers appearing before him should do likewise, despite legislation relaxing the requirement that they do so. Similarly, Carney insisted that he be addressed as "your lordship", noting wryly that "a judge is something one sees on Wanderly Wagon".

On a more serious level, some of Carney's decisions were strongly criticised. In 1993, his decision to suspend a sentence for the rapist of Lavinia Kerwick prompted her to waive her anonymity and, consequently, a public outcry. In the aftermath, legislation was introduced to allow the DPP to appeal sentencing.

More recently, his three-year suspended sentence for convicted rapist Adam Keane in 2007 was overturned by the appeals court, which increased it to 10 years, with the last three suspended. Two years ago, Carney's decision to suspend nine of 12 years in the sentence of Patrick O'Brien, for the rape and indecent assault of his daughter Fiona Doyle, occasioned uproar. Later that week, he apologised to Ms Doyle and revoked bail for her father.

One barrister remembered him as "extremely just… I always got a fair trial before him.

''He wasn't afraid to exercise judicial power, but judiciously". He retired on April 24 of this year, describing himself as "a reluctant retiree", saying: "There is nothing voluntary about my going."

He recently served as a member of the Fennelly Commission on the Jurisdiction of the Courts.

Prior to being appointed a judge, Carney had been a member of the Progressive Democrats, and once served as election agent to former Minister for Justice and PD leader Michael McDowell.

In the wake of his death, tributes were led by the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns.

He described his former colleague as "the pre-eminent criminal law judge in the Central Criminal Court in our time, presiding in a long career over well more than a hundred murder and rape trials. He did so with exemplary fairness throughout, a fact acknowledged by not only by practitioners, but in many instances, also by those standing trial before him.

''He will be greatly missed, particularly by his colleagues in the High Court, who held him in such high esteem."

Paul Carney died on Wednesday, September 23. He was buried at Deans Grange Cemetery on Tuesday, after a ceremony at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook.

He is survived by his wife, Dr Marjorie Young, and four children.

Indo Review

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life