Sunday 24 March 2019

Standing ovation for Judge Haughton

Judge Haughton with wife Elsie.
Judge Haughton with wife Elsie.
Judges Joseph Mangan. David Riordan, Gerard Haughton, Michael Pattwell, Colin Daly and Flannan Brennan

David Medcalf

Judge Gerard Haughton departed from the courthouse in Wexford for the last time with the applause of a standing ovation ringing in his ears.

The Wicklow native stepped down last week from the bench 28 years after delivering his first verdicts in the District Court.

And he made no secret of the fact that he was reluctant to retire, his career brought to an end by a rule which sets 70 as the age limit for judges.

He also revealed that the law was not his first choice of career, as he left school with his heart set on becoming a pilot.

He set off to England for preliminary trials with the RAF only to fail an eye test which put a stop to any such ambitions, so he became a solicitor instead.

By the time he was called to be a judge in 1991 he had built up a successful legal practice in Wicklow town.

In his new role, he built up a formidable reputation as an expert in the law, while also being widely respected for the humanity of his decision-making.

He became the 'resident' judge for District 23 covering Wexford and Gorey during 2008 when he succeeded the late Donnchadh Ó Buachalla.

The departing justice used the occasion of his final Wexford appearance to make a plea to Government to streamline road traffic legislation.

Much of the time in the District Court is wasted dealing with motoring offences such as drink driving, he suggested.

Judge Haughton noted that a recent Law Reform Commission report on the matter ran to 16,000 words in its review of the relevant acts, statutory instruments and regulations.

His recommendation to the legislators was: 'Put it in the bin and replace it with something more easily administered and understood.'

Court clerk Deirdre McCarthy introduced a string of speakers eager to pay tribute to the reluctant retiree in front of a packed courthouse.

First to speak was Judge Flann Brennan, representing the president of the District Court, who spoke of his departing colleague as a wonderful example of judicial practice and expertise.

He described Gerard Haughton as having all the qualities of a good judge and a man for whom precision is a hallmark.

Judge Colin Daly of the District Court Judges Association called him a great judge and a good man.

The judge's wife Elsie Haughton, their four children and several grandchildren were present to hear the tributes which included a few words from retired Judge Michael Patwell and barrister Jordan Fletcher.

Wexford solicitors were represented by Martin Lawlor, who recalled that Judge Haughton was always noted for his fairness, politeness and even-handedness, underpinned by a vast knowledge of the law.

Garda Chief Superintendent Pat McMenamin felt that everyone who appeared before the judge was met with fairness and respect.

Brief words of praise and best wishes were also delivered by Seamus Halpenny of the probation service and by court clerk Deirdre McCarthy.

Then all - including one prisoner in custody and waiting for his case to be dealt with - rose to deliver the standing ovation.

Wicklow People