Mr Justice Paul Carney: a man of compassion and innovation

Profile: A stickler for tradition, his reputation was of a judge who was ‘tough but fair’

Mr Justice Paul Carney, who died today, retired from the bench last April after a legal career spanning five decades, including some 25 years service as a judge of the High Court during which he dealt with many high-profile rape and murder cases.

Educated at Gonzaga College and UCD, he was a former election agent to former Minister for Justice and Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell.

A reluctant retiree, the hard-working 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.

Addressing a packed courtroom on that occasion, Attorney General Máire Whelan said Mr Justice Carney’s important contribution was characterised by “compassion” for the ordinary citizen.

In other tributes, he was described as an “innovator”, “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 appointed a High Court judge in 1991. He presided over hundreds of civil and criminal cases, including the murder trial of sisters Charlotte and Linda Mulhall.

As a judge of the Central Criminal Court, 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 manslaughter 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.