Government powers not unlimited
It was sometimes the task of the judiciary to remind Government that its powers were not unlimited, and that it must keep within the power the law had given it, she said.
“This doesn't always make us popular, either with the general public or with Government,” she noted.
“We lawyers and judges have to carry on with the job, regardless of what the media, social media and politicians have to say about us,” she added.
The Hibernian Law Medal 2022 was awarded at the event to former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, and Baroness Hale (President of the UK’s Supreme Court from 2017 until her retirement in 2020).
The medal is awarded annually to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of justice, the rule-of-law, independence of the judiciary and legal profession, and to public understanding of, and access to, the legal system.
Previous medal recipients include former Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness, and Lord Neuberger, who served as President of the UK Supreme Court from 2012 to 2017.
Introducing the recipients, High Court President Ms Justice Mary Irvine said that the opening up of Irish society, and reform of the laws in relation to contraception, homosexuality and divorce, had all been realised, due in no small part to Mary Robinson’s drive and commitment.
Mary Robinson practised at the Bar in order to make change, she said.
Robinson played a “pivotal role in shaping, not only the modern and inclusive society that we all cherish so much, but also our current rejuvenated and much-liberalised Constitution,” she added.
Accepting the medal, Mary Robinson said that as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, she had “a great awakening” that the right to food, water, health, and education were not being championed sufficiently.
Climate change was undermining all these rights, she said.
Accepting the medal, Mary Robinson said that, as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, she had “a great awakening” that the right to food, water, health, and education were not being championed sufficiently. Climate change was undermining all these rights, she said.
“You may recall that during my seven years as President of Ireland from 1990- 97, I never made a speech on climate, because we weren't aware,” she said.
“We should have been, maybe, but we weren't,” she admitted.
The industrialised world had built its economies on fossil fuel, but now must wean itself off as rapidly as possible, Robinson said.
The climate crisis should be made personal in people's lives, through recycling more, and changing diet and transport habits.
“It gives you a sense of owning the crisis, which is very refreshing. It helps your climate anxiety – you won't be so anxious in the future,” Robinson told the attendees.
“Secondly, get a bit angry with those who aren’t doing enough – which is Government, the private sector, the fossil-fuel lobby. Everybody has to do a bit more,” she urged.
Oil and gas companies had received a new lease of life because of the war in Ukraine, she commented.
“The oil and gas companies, they're now coming to the rescue of governments and saying, ‘you need us’.
“We don't. They might think we do, but we don’t. We need clean energy, and we need it very rapidly,” she said.
In the early days of COVID, people could hear birdsong and had cleaner air because fossil-fuel activity ceased, the former president said.
“We need to stop it permanently,” she said, adding that the fossil-fuel lobby was effective and tenacious.
If the climate targets remains unmet then, there is only a “catastrophic world” ahead, she claimed.
“We need to keep a focus on the real existential threat; it is not going to be a liveable world on the present trajectory, at all,” Robinson stated.
The former President is flying to Rwanda next week for a meeting of the Women Leaders Network of Africa and Europe.
“We have to change the mindset to a much more positive feminist approach to living,” she said.
Despite reaching the very top of her profession, Baroness Hale told the audience that she had felt dogged by a continuing sense of unfairness throughout her life.
Accepting the Hibernian Law Medal medal, Hale stated that she had learned to carry on, regardless of what she termed "casual sexism".
However, Hale disclosed that she had also benefited from being an “appointable woman”, at a time when the powers-that-be were on the lookout for same.
“I’ve definitely benefited from that, and I’m not ashamed to say so,” she continued.
A diverse judiciary was important for democratic legitimacy, Hale added.
“People should not feel that their lives are being governed by some alien beings from outer space, as so many of the judges from my early days appeared to be,” Baroness Hale commented.
“The absence of women, of ethnic minorities, and other under-represented groups, suggests that we are not equally valued by the law and the justice system,” she claimed.
Hale added that, in her opinion, not many male judges would list humility as a necessary characteristic for sitting on the bench.