Most senior criminal judge in country Paul Carney retires

‘Strong advocate’ of victim rights credited with effecting a structured criminal justice system

The country's most senior criminal judge Mr Justice Paul Carney has retired after warm tributes were paid to him at the Four Courts.

Tributes were lead by Attorney General Máire Whelan, who said Mr Justice Carney’s important contribution was characterised by “compassion” for the ordinary citizen.

In other tributes, he was described as an “innovator”, a “strong advocate” of the rights of victims as well as a defender of the right to a fair trial, and instrumental in putting together a structured criminal justice system that is “fit for purpose”.

Mr Justice Carney was called to the Bar in 1966 and was appointed a High Court judge in 1991.

He presided over hundreds of civil and criminal cases, including some of the country's most high-profile rape, murder and manslaughter cases including those involving Wayne O'Donoghue, Michael Bambrick and sisters Linda and Charlotte Mulhall.

He was a member of the three-judge High Court which heard the case of Marie Fleming, who challenged the law making assisted suicide a criminal offence.

His sometimes fraught relationship with the Court of Criminal Appeal occasionally led to controversy over sentences, including his initial imposition of a suspended sentence on Adam Keane from Darragh, Co Clare, over the rape of Mary Shannon as she slept in her home.

The judge referred to an appeal court decision when suspending the sentence, but later reactivated the sentence after hearing Keane flicked a cigarette at Ms Shannon as they both caught the same train home.

The judge was a stickler for tradition, and adhered to the practice of wearing a horsehair wig long after other judges ceased to do so. His reputation among lawyers was of a judge who is “tough but fair”.

In his response to tributes, Mr Justice Carney said this was “a very black day” as he had worked for more than 50 years.

He thanked all those involved in working with him down the years.

In his experience of criminal law, he said, a particular factor that had changed was that, 50 years ago, some sort of allegation of Garda brutality or similar was levelled in almost every case.

Judges had in those days always held with gardaí regarding issues of fact, and if there was a finding for the defence it was on a technicality - but that approach had gone due to factors including a “better class of guard and a better class of judge”, more independent judges and a better class of prosecuting and defence counsel, he said. The availability of CCTV was also important.

Judges of the Supreme and High Courts were among a packed crowd in Court 4 for the occasion. Mr Justice Carney's wife Marjorie, their four children and dozens of solicitors and barristers were also present.

The Attorney General noted Mr Justice Carney was counsel in the seminal 1990 Kenny appeal before the Supreme Court which led to the introduction of the "exclusionary rule" concerning admissibility of evidence obtained in breach of a constitutional right.

That rule was struck down last week by the Supreme Court by a 4/3 majority.

Tributes were also paid on behalf of the DFP, Bar Council, Law Society, Courts Service, media and gardaí.

Bar Council chairman David Barniville said that, from a lawyer's point of view, the judge was "simply the best" in a career characterised by "extraordinary industry and dedication".

Assistant Garda Commissioner Donal O Cualáin said the judge’s insistence on high standards had influenced gardaí.

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said she wished Justice Carney “every good wish in his retirement. Irish society and victims of the most serious crimes on our statute books, owes Justice Paul Carney a huge debt of gratitude. Gratitude for the care, dedication, precision and knowledge he brought to his role as judge, over many years in the Central Criminal court, where he presided over some of the most vile, depraved cases of murder, rape, child sex abuse and sexual violence we have ever seen to come before our courts in this country.

“He was a fair judge who was committed to interpreting Irish law to the very best of his ability to ensure that justice was delivered. He is to be commended for, on the very rare occasion when he didn’t get it right, that he was a big enough man to come back and make right what he got wrong.”