In 2006, he was the judge in the “embryo case” where an estranged wife, Mary Roche, sought to have three frozen embryos implanted against the wishes of her husband Thomas Roche.
This was a “farewell with a difference” though, as Justice McGovern will now take up a new role with the Cervical Check Tribunal, along with Ms Justice Mary Irvine and Mr Justice Michael Peart, providing an alternative mechanism for processing claims.
Those were the words of President of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Bermingham. He said that while the golf course or the riverbank often is the destination of retirees, yesterday’s occasion marks a new chapter in the distinguished career of Mr Justice Brian McGovern.
Mr Justice McGovern remains a keen and competitive tennis player, having captained the UCD team while studying law.
He was called to the Bar in 1972 and was a proud member of the Harry Hill family of ‘devils’ which included distinguished practitioners such as the late Peter Sutherland, and many who subsequently served on the bench. He took silk in 1991.
“Both at the Bar and on the bench Brian has been an exceptionally hard worker,” said Mr Justice Bermingham, describing him as a stalwart of the bench. He also had a distinguished career in arbitration and medical negligence law.
“Brian, I valued your friendship since 1976 when I entered the Law Library but it’s been a particular pleasure to have you as a colleague on this court and to have worked alongside you on the Court of Appeal,” he said, adding that Justice McGovern’s judgments were a model of their kind – incisive, concise and focused.
“Brian quickly developed a broad-based practice, mainly on the civil side and with a significant admiralty or maritime law element," Mr Justice Bermingham recalled.
"His father Niall had been the chief executive office of Irish Shipping and a founding member of the Irish Maritime Law Society and Justice McGovern would subsequently follow in his footsteps as its president.”
Mr Justice McGovern also acted in the Whiddy Tribunal, the Ryan Commission and the Lindsay Tribunal.
Since June 2018, he has served as a judge of the Court of Appeal where tributes were paid yesterday.
“I hope that you will find the next chapter rewarding and fulfilling,” Mr Justice Bermingham said.
Attorney General Seamus Woulfe SC thanked Mr Justice McGovern, on behalf of the people of Ireland and the Government, for his dedicated public service.
He remarked that the retiring judge had acted in cases involving well-known Irish people such as golfer Rory McIlroy, politician Mick Wallace, and Gay Byrne, late of RTÉ.
The Attorney General said he awaited with great interest the work of the Cervival Check Tribunal, which will commence hearings shortly.
“Your departure from the court today will be a loss for the judiciary but, as I said on the occasion of the retirement of Judge Peart, as one judicial door closes, another tribunal door opens," the AG said.
President of the Law Society Michele O’Boyle said that it was a pleasure to pay tribute to a man that has made a remarkable, important and valuable contribution to the Irish legal system, and is also universally liked and respected.
“You are the epitome of what all lawyers aspire to be,” she said – a lawyer of exceptional ability and skill with a profound sense of justice.
On behalf of the Law Society, Michele O’Boyle wished the retiring judge good health and an abundance of happiness in the next stage of life.
Chair of the Bar Council, Micheál P O'Higgins SC, said that, with family connections to Co Longford, Justice McGovern had remained a very proud member of the circuit, though his Dublin practice became his main focus.
Angela Denning of the Courts Service, Noreen Landers of the DPP’s office, and Geraldine Manners, the Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal, also paid tribute to Mr Justice McGovern.
Mr Justice McGovern said “I intend to take the advice which was given to Homer Simpson when he found himself in a posh restaurant and the maître d' made a request that he ‘please leave without making a fuss’."
He thanked everyone for their very kind remarks but said he has told his family that when he shuffles off this mortal coil, he doesn’t want any fuss.
“When I go to a funeral, I’m pretty sure I’m in the correct church until I hear the eulogy,” he said.
He thanked all of his colleagues at the Bar and on the bench, particularly Mr Justice Peter Kelly for doing a wonderful job in the Commercial Court.
He also mentioned his usher John Martin, who had become, in eight years, a counsellor and a confidant, and Commercial Court registrar Niamh Dermody, who always advised him “don’t panic!”