Death takes place of former judge Paul Carney

Former Central Criminal Court judge (71) retired in April after five decade law career


Mr Justice Paul Carney, the country’s pre-eminent criminal judge until his retirement earlier this year,has died after a short illness.

The 72-year-old judge retired from the bench just last April after a legal career spanning five decades, including some 24 years service as a judge of the High Court.

A reluctant retiree, the hard-working, fearless and sometimes controversial judge described the day of his departure from the bench as a “very black day”, noting he had worked for more than 50 years and wished to continue.

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, expressed her deepest sympathy to the judge’s wife, Dr Marjorie Young and family. Mr Justice Carney was “a judge of exceptional ability who made a huge contribution to the High Court bench, in particular in presiding over many high profile criminal law trials,”she said.

“I know he will be greatly missed and sadly he did not get to enjoy the benefits of a long and well-deserved retirement.”

The President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said his colleague’s death, coming so soon after his retirement, “is a sad loss for his family and for the judiciary which he served with such distinction for so many years”.

Mr Justice Carney had presided over more than a hundred murder and rape trials and did so “with exemplary fairness throughout, a fact acknowledged not only by practitioners but in many instances also by those standing trial before him. He will be greatly missed, particularly by his colleagues in the High Court, who held him in such high esteem”.

Bar Council Chairman David Barniville SC said, when Mr Justice Carney retired last April, he left the Central Criminal Court “in a far better place than it was when he found it”.

The legal profession and the people of Ireland have “lost a giant”, he said. The industry and dedication Mr Justice Carney showed to his job was the hallmark of his 24 years as a judge as was his “deep and fundamental sense of fairness and justice”.

“No legacy is so rich as honesty and that is certainly true in his case. The legal profession will forever have unfeigned respect for him and for the fiercely independent way in which he discharged his duties.”

Mr Barniville said one of the most important achievements of Mr Justice Carney’s time as presiding judge in the Central Criminal Court was his decision in 2003 to bring that court outside Dublin to sit at various venues around the country. “He felt that justice should be brought to the people and this form of ‘judicial decentralisation’ was an integral part of the tremendous legacy he leaves in his wake”.

Ken Murphy, Director General of the Law Society, said Mr Justice Carney was “one of Ireland’s greatest ever criminal judges, utterly devoted to fairness, justice and the rule of law”. Judge Carney “did society’s dirty work”, hearing evidence daily “of depravity and man’s inhumanity to man, but he never allowed himself to become cynical about humanity or about our system of criminal justice”, Mr Murphy said.

Barrister Vincent P. Martin of the Public Access to Law group of barristers, said Mr Justice Carney was “incredibly generous with his time in helping to make the workings of the legal system more accessible to the public”. The late judge also supported a new legal education initiative for prisoners, he added.

The victims support charity, Victim Support At Court (V-Sac), also paid tribute to the late judge, who became its patron following his retirement. On becoming patron, he said V-Sac, founded in 2005, had “made a positive impact on victims of crime by making the legal process that much more accessible”.

He also said V-SAC has an “increasingly important” role to play in ensuring the State lives up to its obligations to victims of crime and he looked forward “to being part of that improvement process”.

Patricia MacBride, Director at V-SAC said its goal now was to take the positive influences Mr Justice Carney had provided “and reflect them in our continuing work”.

“It is sad that he had such a short period of retirement before his illness and untimely death,” she said and extended sympathies to his wife and family.

Educated at Gonzaga College and UCD, Mr Justice Carney was called to the Bar in 1966 and appointed a High Court judge in 1991. As the presiding judge at the Central Criminal Court, he presided over hundreds of civil and criminal cases, including the murder trial of sisters Charlotte and Linda Mulhall.

He was sometimes outspoken and his decisions sometimes attracted controversy, including in 2012 when he imposed an effective three year prison term on 72-year-old Patrick O’Brien,from Oldcourt, Bray, for repeatedly raping his daughter Fiona Doyle between 1973 and 1982.

Judge Carney later apologised to Ms Doyle over his “insensitive” decision to grant bail to O’Brien pending appeal. The Court of Criminal Appeal ultimately found the sentence unduly lenient and gave O’Brien another seven years in jail.

The judge was also criticised by former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness and the then Justice Minister Nora Owen over his criticism in 2006 of the victim impact statement of Majella Holohan after Wayne O’Donoghue was convicted of the manslaughter of her 11-year-old son Robert.

While the judge’s imposition of a four year sentence in that case was upheld by the Court of Criminal Appeal, his sometimes fraught relationship with the appeal court occasionally lead 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.

He also imposed an 11 month sentence on Co Mayo farmer Padraig Nally for the manslughter of Traveller John Ward in 2005. Nally was later freed by the Court of Criminal Appeal after it found Judge Carney should have allowed the jury consider a full defence of self-defence. 

Mr Justice Carney was also part of the three judge High Court that rejected the challenge by terminally ill Marie Fleming to laws making assisted suicide a criminal offence.

As a barrister, Mr Justice Carney acted as counsel in the seminal 1990 Kenny case appeal before the Supreme Court which lead to the introduction of the “exclusionary rule” concerning admissibility of evidence obtained in breach of a constitutional right. That rule was struck down earlier this year by the Supreme Court by a 4/3 majority.

A stickler for tradition, he adhered to the practise of wearing the horsehair wig long after other judges, following the example of the Supreme Court,ceased to do so.

His reputation among lawyers was of a judge who was “tough but fair”. According to a senior colleague, Mr Justice Carney regularly said of himself: “I don’t do bland”. “A superficial grumpiness masked the most generous and kindest of persons”, the colleague added.

The judge is survived by his wife, Dr Marjorie Young, and four adult children, Jonathan, Julian, Philip and Rosalind. His remains will be removed to the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, on Tuesday, arriving for funeral Mass at 11.30am, with burial afterwards at Deansgrange cemetery.