Warm tributes were paid this morning (13 July) to retiring President of the High Court Ms Justice Mary Irvine.
Law Society President Michelle Ní Longáin said that it was a real honour to address President Irvine’s last sitting as High Court President.
“I really enjoyed your warm kindness and support during my presidency to date, and how well you have worked with the Law Society during difficult times of the pandemic, and I want to thank you for that,” she began.
Ms Justice Irvine has been a tireless advocate for access to justice, and has shared strong views on the need for increased judicial resources, President Ní Longáin said.
“I know that these reflect your genuine desire, in the public interest, to advance and support the rule of law, to ensure that all who need it can have their case heard by a judge in a timely manner,” she said.
The Law Society would continue to advocate for access to justice supported by what Ms Justice Irvine has said and done in office, she said.
Ms Justice Irvine had been a great friend to the Law Society, and spoke at the first-ever virtual parchment ceremony in November 2020, the president added.
“You noted then that, not once in your 25 years practising as a barrister, did you have a bad experience dealing with the solicitors’ profession,” the Law Society President said.
“You are a trailblazer, and your retirement is before your time. But in that time, you have done so very much.
“On behalf of the Law Society, and on my own behalf, it has been a real pleasure and honour to spend time with you, and I wish you the very best for a very long, healthy, and happy retirement,” she said.
President Ní Longáin wished Ms Justice Irvine cherished times with her family, and further enjoyment of her hobbies of pottery and golf.
Rule of law
Attorney General Paul Gallagher said that the rule of law was under threat in other countries, and Ireland must be on its guard to maintain the freedoms and values it cherishes.
“We must recognise the vital role played by the judiciary in our constitutional structure. Without an independent judiciary, you have no constitutional democracy worthy of the name, and without a constitutional democracy we cannot maintain our values and freedoms,” he said.
Ms Justice Mary Irvine had played a vital and outstanding role in Ireland’s judicial tradition over a 44-year legal career, the attorney general said.
Judges bring to the bench the experience and expertise they have developed in legal practice, he said.
Their understanding of people, and reasoned judgments, are central to the development of the common law, and to the acceptability by citizens of those laws, he added.
During lockdown, Ms Justice Irvine had kept the courts going with immense personal drive and commitment and an unsurpassed work ethic, and a determination to make justice available to whoever required it, the attorney general said.
Courts Service Chief Executive Angela Denning said that she and her team would always be grateful for the humanity, good humour, good grace, and friendship shown by Ms Justice Irvine, and for her no-nonsense, common-sense approach.
The departing judge showed extraordinary commitment to the Courts Service as a board member, with a clear vision of how much better it could and should be, Ms Denning added.
Responding, Ms Justice Irvine thanked the speakers for their kind tributes, saying that she had had an extraordinarily privileged life and a great deal of good luck.
She was born to wonderful parents who had supported her in every way, and had given her and her two brothers a great upbringing.
“I had so many extra-curricular activities that I did no curricular activities, and my poor teachers couldn’t get me to put a nose into a book at all,” she quipped.
She drifted into law at UCD, but it only took one lecture to convince her that she would like a career at the Bar, which began in 1978.
“I loved every moment of it, the Bar is a truly wonderful career,” she said.
After elevation to the bench, Ms Justice Irvine said that she found her time in charge of the personal-injuries list extremely interesting, as well as eye-opening to her own good fortune in life.
Particularly poignant were the children who suffered catastrophic injuries at birth, she added.
Her time on the Court of Appeal, though strenuous, was accompanied by a tremendous camaraderie among her fellow judges, she said.
A stint on the Supreme Court made her realise that every judge on the court brought something different to the decision-making process, but her current role was the one to which she felt most suited, Ms Justice Irvine said.
Managing the wardship list was a particular privilege, even if at times dealing with such cases could be upsetting.
Many people ended up in wardship through no fault of their own, she said, by being born into disadvantaged homes or by developing a mental disability.
“We really do need more specialist units in this country to support those young people who, for a myriad of reasons, develop eating disorders in their teens, and who, without early specialist intervention, have quite a poor prognosis,” she commented.
The new wardship system must be properly resourced, she added.
COVID had shown that remote hearings could work, though contentious and complex cases needed a physical setting, the judge said.
Remaining open and flexible was important in coping with any future crises, Ms Justice Irvine added.
Chairing the personal-injuries guidelines committee had been stressful, she said, particularly given her understanding of the fragile circumstances of many practitioners in the area.
Being High Court President had been an extraordinary honour, she added.
The High Court today was stronger and more capable than any of its predecessors, because of the commitment and flexibility of its members, and the tremendous camaraderie therein, she believed.
After 44 years of work, Ms Justice Irvine said she wanted to stop “shoehorning the people she loved most in her life into a hopelessly small space”, which was why she had opted for retirement.
“I’m going to miss every single one of you,” she told her High Court colleagues.