Tributes paid to ‘immense’ contribution of Ms Justice Mary Laffoy

She was appointed High Court judge in 1995 and became Supreme Court judge in 2013

Chair of the Citizens’ Assembly Ms Justice Mary Laffoy at the sixth meeting of the assembly at the Grand Hotel Malahide earlier this month. Photograph: Maxwell’s

Chair of the Citizens’ Assembly Ms Justice Mary Laffoy at the sixth meeting of the assembly at the Grand Hotel Malahide earlier this month. Photograph: Maxwell’s

 

The Chief Justice has praised Ms Justice Mary Laffoy’s “immense” contribution to the law and Irish public life on the judge’s retirement from the Supreme Court.

Ms Justice Laffoy joined an “almost exclusively male” Bar in 1971. Chief Justice Susan Denham said Ms Justice Laffoy made her career over the next five decades “not through flamboyance or family connections, but through her sheer ability as a lawyer”.

One of the most respected and hard-working members of the judiciary, Ms Justice Laffoy, who is also chair of the Citizens’ Assembly, retired on Friday, the eve of her 72nd birthday.

She previously presided over the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse from 1999–2003, but resigned as chair in 2003 before the commission completed its report after expressing her belief various factors, including actions of the Government and Department of Education, negated the guarantee of independence conferred on the Commission and slowed its work.

In reply to the tributes on Friday, the judge thanked all who had worked with and for her and said the public may not fully appreciate how hard the job of a High and Supreme Court judge is.

She was “very grateful” for having had the opportunity to participate in the administration of justice “and in particular the protection of the rule of law”.

“Keep up the good work,” she said.

Born in Tuam, Co Galway, Ms Justice Laffoy went to an Irish speaking school, Coláiste Mhuire in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo and graduated from University College Dublin with a BA and law degrees before attending the King’s Inns.

She was called to the Bar in July 1971 and, with the Chief Justice, was amongst a small number of women to become senior counsel in 1987. Because, as women, they could not buy off the peg senior counsel outfits from a “renowned tailor”, the Chief Justice said they bought similar black suits and asked to embellish them with the SC braiding on the men’s suits.

That “real indicator of changing times” made the newspapers, she remarked.

At the Bar, Ms Justice Laffoy was involved in several important cases, including leading to the landmark Cityview Press decision and to the striking down of the Matrimonial Home Bill. She was regarded as the leading expert on conveyancing and title law.

She was appointed a High Court judge in April 1995 where she was primarily involved in chancery law. She became a judge of the Supreme Court in 2013.

As a judge, she was respected for her fearless independence, including during the A case when, to considerable political and public outcry, she ruled a finding of unconstitutionality required the release of a man convicted of underage sex. She also gave the judgment rejecting Independent TD Thomas Pringle’s challenge to the ESM Treaty in a case referred to the European courts.

Other significant decisions included in the areas of employment, contract, marriage and property law and housing rights. She is regarded as having developed the courts’ human rights jurisprudence both under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003.