Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman: a legal colossus

Public life is poorer for the passing of the Supreme Court judge, historian and intellectual

 

The sudden death of Adrian Hardiman – judge, historian and public intellectual – robs the Supreme Court of one of its most dominant and distinctive figures. Since his appointment in 2000, he has been an influential voice in nearly all the major cases that have come before court, leaving a rich legacy that will long outlive him. He was, Chief Justice Susan Denham said, “a colossus of the legal world.”

Hardiman was not without flaws. He could be charming and kind, but also harsh and cutting. He seemed, in public at least, to be immune to self-doubt; a more useful quality in a barrister than a judge. Critics believed he could be too dogmatic, notably on the separation of powers.

But unshakeable self-confidence was central to his appeal. He took a consistent, principles-based approach to interpreting the Constitution and was willing to take unpopular positions; not least on issues such as the tribunals, socio-economic rights and criminal law. He saw himself as a classic liberal, and that was the key to understanding his judicial decision-making. And whether it was on moral issues of life-and-death or the rights of Irish-language speakers – which he, a fluent speaker, did more than any other judge to defend – his judgments were rigorous, erudite and clear.

Hardiman’s independence of mind – he seemed to be afraid of no one – was immensely important when he was deciding cases in those areas he was most passionate about and where he leaves his greatest mark: civil liberties and individual rights. He was a powerful voice for the rights of the accused. He was keenly aware of the immense power of An Garda Síochána and rightly conscious of the judges’ vital role in overseeing and checking that power. The Supreme Court’s work on civil liberties, particularly since the early 1960s, has been one of its greatest achievements, and Hardiman’s stirring judgments in this area were reminiscent of the pioneering work of predecessors such as Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh and Brian Walsh. Adrian Hardiman was an original.

The Supreme Court, and Irish public life in general, are the poorer for his passing.

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