Judge of fluency and compassion


MR JUSTICE Michael Moriarty has been a High Court judge for just a year, having been appointed from the Circuit Court last March. He is one of the best-liked and respected judges on the bench, and barristers, not normally uncritical of the judiciary, are unstinting in his praise.

"He is an absolute model of what a judge should be," said one. "On Fridays in the Circuit Court he would have long, long lists, maybe 60 or 70 cases, including those for mention and adjournment. There was acute sensitivity about sentencing and whether justice was done. If he got one of them wrong there was a good chance there would be a question in the Dail or a newspaper article about it. His judgment was always absolutely right."

Another said simply of his work at this time: "He's too conscientious. They'll kill him."

He was young, at 40, to be appointed a Circuit Court judge in 1987, only two years after becoming a senior counsel. His career at the Bar, to which he was called in 1968, took in all aspects of the law.

However, it is as a judge in criminal cases that he made his mark, with judgments which were always marked by compassion and fairness. While he dealt with a huge workload, he was not afraid of adjourning cases while he thought about sentencing, or making unusual conditions.

For example, he gave two Belfast men suspended sentences after they pleaded guilty to possession of LSD and cannabis, but stipulated that they should not travel south of the Border. He was a frequent visitor to prisons to see for himself the conditions there, and devoted a lot of time to working with the Catholic Youth Council.

He was chairman of the Lord Mayor's Commission on Crime in Dublin, which produced a report at the end of 1994 which focused on working-class victims of crime, scotching the view that most crime involved burglary of middle-class homes.

On the High Court bench his eloquence and fluency have more opportunity to be heard than in the Circuit Court. This is his second high-profile case, following the Rocca-Ryan hearing, and as reporters in both cases have noted, he has a wonderful capacity for euphemistic phrases.