Michael Lavery obituary: Barrister known for mastery of evidence and arguments
Lavery’s arguments were noted for succinctness, focusing on the substantive issues
Michael Lavery was phenomenally well-read, fond of the classics, with an encyclopediac knowledge of many topics
Born: June 10th, 1934
Died: April 25th, 2019
Michael Lavery, who has died in his 86th year, was one of the leading barristers of his generation in Northern Ireland. He practised for 61 years, retiring two years ago. For many years, he was “Father of the Bar”. At one stage, he, three sons and a grand-daughter were all practising barristers.
In court he had a mastery of evidence and arguments. To achieve that he was not afraid to ask clients the most basic questions during preparation. His skeleton arguments were noted for succinctness, focusing on the substantive issues.
Lavery famously and repeatedly clashed with former British prime minister Ted Heath at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry
He practised across much of the spectrum of the law. As a criminal defence barrister, he represented loyalists, republicans, British soldiers and police during the Troubles. He established duress as a successful defence in a murder trial, in the case of the Director of Public Prosecutions Northern Ireland v Lynch. Joseph Lynch had been instructed by three armed and masked IRA men to drive them to a specific location. One of the IRA men had a reputation for ruthlessness. The three killed a police officer. Lynch was convicted of murder, a conviction upheld at appeal.
Lavery represented Lynch on appeal to the House of Lords in 1975. There, he established that the law had to maintain connection to common sense to remain humane. Lynch had been acting to save his life without being certain that this would lead to the death of another. The murder conviction was overturned.
In a 1999 case, he struck an important blow for press freedom. He acted on behalf of journalist Ed Maloney. Detectives had served a subpoena on Maloney, seeking to confiscate notes of interviews with the late Billy Stobie, the UDA quartermaster and RUC Special Branch agent who had supplied the weapons used to kill solicitor Pat Finucane. A first court hearing granted the police request. On appeal, Lavery persuaded the North’s Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Carswell to deny the subpoena on the grounds police did not have an automatic right to such information.
On a personal level, he was genial, warm, good company and a great raconteur. He deployed those gifts for the greater good
Later, he famously and repeatedly clashed with former British prime minister Ted Heath at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. Lavery was representing some of the families. He asked Heath a number of times if innocent people had been murdered. Heath called him “offensive” and “obscene”. Additionally, he acted in several high-profile libel trials.
Charles Michael Lavery was born in the Catholic enclave of “The Tunnel” in Portadown, Co Armagh, in June 1934. He was the third of four children, two girls and two boys, to Charles Lavery and his wife Winifred (née McCaffrey). His mother was a hairdresser. His father spent much of his life working at various manual jobs in England, and also served in the British army as an anti-aircraft gunner during the second World War.
Paradoxically, Lavery married the daughter of a former German soldier who had fought on the Axis side. He received primary schooling in Portadown; secondary schooling at St Patrick’s College, Armagh; and university education at Trinity College, Dublin. He was called to the Northern Bar in 1956.
He had great personal happiness in his marriage to Anneliese (née Lehmann), and her sudden death in 2008 was a blow.
He was phenomenally well-read, fond of the classics, with an encyclopediac knowledge of many topics. On a personal level, he was genial, warm, good company and a great raconteur. He deployed those gifts for the greater good. “He was without doubt the lynch pin who held us all together throughout the Troubles,” a barrister colleague from a unionist background said. He was helpful to journalists, willing to talk and discuss high-profile cases without being indiscreet.
A Court of Appeal judge best summed up Lavery. He once appeared before the court on successive days. A judge said to him: “Mr Lavery, you were here yesterday, arguing the opposite point”. “My Lords, I am simply a taxi for hire,” he replied. “More a limousine, Mr Lavery,” retorted one of the judges.
He is survived by his daughters Gisela and Anneliese; sons Michael, Finbar and Ronan; and sister Mairead. He was predeceased by his wife Anneliese.