High Court president says ‘timely’ justice must be for all, not only cases attracting ‘political attention’
Posted on 13th July 2022 at 21:48
Warm tributes paid to Ms Justice Mary Irvine who retires after 44 years’ service
Timely justice “must be for everybody and not just for those involved in cases which attract political attention”, the outgoing president of the High Court has said.
While hearing “on the grapevine” of the possibility of more judges being appointed to hear planning cases, Ms Justice Mary Irvine said timely access to justice is “equally important” for everybody, including crime victims, family law litigants, the unfairly dismissed and those seeking damages to care for the catastrophically injured.
Speaking on Wednesday after tributes were paid to her at the Four Courts on her retirement, the judge said under-investment in justice for decades here means there is no timely access for many people.
Directly addressing the Attorney General, who was among those paying tribute, Ms Justice Irvine said the High Court needs another 17 or 18 judges. More judges are also required for the District and Circuit Courts, she said.
She also stressed it is “very important” that the new assisted decision-making regime, which is expected to come into effect later this year to replace the wards of court system managed by the High Court president, is adequately resourced.
The new regime, she said, has the potential “to greatly enhance the lives of many people currently in wardship but that will only be the case if it is properly resourced”.
Managing the wardship list had been a privilege and at times upsetting, said the judge. Meeting wards, including young people with eating disorders, made her very conscious of her own good fortune. She would “never forget some of their heartbroken parents” and said more specialist beds are required for young people with eating disorders because, without early specialist intervention, they have quite a poor prognosis.
The judge, the first woman president of the High Court and the first person to hold four judicial offices here, retired on Wednesday after a 44-year legal career.
Later on Wednesday, Mr Justice David Barniville, who was nominated by the Government last month as successor to Ms Justice Irvine, made the declaration in the Supreme Court as required by the Constitution for that office having earlier received his warrant of appointment from President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin
A native of Clontarf, Dublin, Ms Justice Irvine (65) served as a High Court judge, a judge of the Court of Appeal and of the Supreme Court prior to her appointment as High Court president in June 2020. During her presidency, she steered the courts through the Covid-19 pandemic, overseeing the introduction of remote hearings across many lists.
Warm tributes were paid to her by Attorney General Paul Gallagher, Bar Council chairwoman Maura McNally, Law Society president Michelle Ní Longáin, Courts Service chief executive Angela Denning and the wards of court registrar Brian Pattell.
In his tribute, Mr Gallagher referred to the challenges facing the rule of law in the US, the UK and across Europe and stressed the importance of an independent judiciary. He said Ms Justice Irvine had kept the courts going with immense personal drive and commitment and a determination to see that justice could be made available for as many people as wanted access to it.
In reply, Ms Justice Irvine said Covid-19, chairing the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee of the Judicial Council, which introduced rules slashing awards for mainly minor personal injuries, and dealing with the chronic shortage of judges, were the three “big ticket” items of her presidency. Some good came out of the Covid-19 crisis because it showed not everything has to be done in a physical courtroom, she said.
Ms Justice Irvine said the effect of the underinvestment in the administration of justice for decades is that timely access to justice may not be available to people who need it in the District, Circuit and High Courts and it is “vitally important that this state of affairs be reversed”.
Having warmly thanked all her colleagues, staff and friends over the years, she became emotional in her concluding words. “After 44 years of work, it is time to stop shoehorning the people I love most in this world into a hopelessly small space in my life,” she said.
Most of her loved ones were in court for her farewell, including her three children, partner Brendan and other family members, she said.
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