Courts need more resources to administer justice, judge warns

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan makes comments as she retires from service

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan pictured in the Four Courts on her last day as a Supreme Court  judge. Photograph: Collins Courts

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan pictured in the Four Courts on her last day as a Supreme Court judge. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

A Supreme Court judge has warned there is a “real risk” the courts will be unable to administer justice in line with the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights unless more resources, including judges, are provided.

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said delays in having appeals heard by the Court of Appeal are “not acceptable” and are a result of an insufficient number of judges.

The Government’s “laudable” goal of seeking to make Ireland, post-Brexit, a centre of legal excellence will not be achieved unless such resources are provided, she said.

That would involve a new system of appointing judges, which she hoped would not deter judges of the calibre she had served with, she added.

She made her comments before a packed Supreme Court when responding to tributes marking her retirement, just weeks before her 70th birthday, as a judge of the court.

A daughter of the late Chief Justice, Mr Justice Thomas Finlay, and from a well-known legal family, she was appointed to the Supreme Court in late 2017, having previously served as a judge of the Court of Appeal from 2014 and as a judge of the High Court from 2002.

Widely respected for her forensic knowledge of the law, as well as her courtesy to litigants, practitioners and staff, her key judgments include a 2012 High Court judgment dismissing the challenge by developer Treasury Holdings over the National Asset Management Agency’s decision calling in more than €1 billion of its loans and appointing receivers over properties here.

Tributes

The Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, lead tributes to his colleague. The audience included Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan’s husband Hugh, also a former Supreme Court judge, their three children and other family members.

The Chief Justice noted Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan graduated in maths from UCD and studied to become a solicitor before she decided to change course and was called to the Bar in 1980. Her rise there was “meteoric” and she became a senior counsel in 1988.

Following her appointment as a High Court judge in 2002, she was, with Mr Justice Peter Kelly, a founding member of the new Commercial Court, played a prominent role in the new High Court asylum list and the Examiner’s list, and was also in charge of child abduction cases.

In each of the areas to which she was assigned, she left a “lasting imprint”, he said. She was meticulous, could sometimes be firm but also had a layer of lightness and “always demonstrated a deep underlay of humanity”.

Attorney General Seamus Woulfe thanked the judge for her public service to date, including as chairwoman of the Referendum Commission for the Children’s Referendum, and hoped she would perform other valuable service in the future.

Tributes were also paid on behalf of the Bar Council, Law Society and the Courts Service with speakers noting the judge’s important contribution to curriculum development at the King’s Inns.

In response, Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan thanked everyone whom she had worked with and alongside over the decades.

Fortunate

As a judge, one does one’s best to administer justice, but one has to do it in accordance with law and that “sometimes puts the brakes on you”, she said.

She had been “so fortunate” throughout her life and career and would not be here were it not for the benefits and opportunities given to her by many, including her parents, family, husband, children and colleagues.

Her mother also qualified as a barrister but never practised because of the then ban on married women working and instead devoted herself to her children, she said.

When she decided to study law herself in 1970, her father advised her the Bar then was “not a good place for women” but she never regretted not taking his advice.

Being a self-employed barrister during child bearing and rearing years is “perhaps not for the faint hearted”.

Her message to other women was “you will get through it and come out the other side” but there were “no easy solutions, litigation must go on”.

The legal profession is now “acutely aware” of the need for support and she hoped that would be provided.