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Friday 9 December 2016

Justice Paul Carney passes away months after his retirement

Justice Paul Carney officiated at over 50pc of murder trials since the 1990s
Justice Paul Carney officiated at over 50pc of murder trials since the 1990s

Ireland's most experienced criminal court judge, Mr Justice Paul Carney (72), has died just five months after his retirement.

A veteran of more than 150 rape and murder cases, he transformed the Irish criminal justice system in his 24 years on the bench.

He pushed for the Central Criminal Court to hear murder and rape cases outside the Four Courts in Dublin, arguing that it was an aid to justice to have such cases dealt with in the regions where they occurred.

READ MORE: Justice Paul Carney: 'He did society's dirty work but never became cynical'

For more than 70 years all such cases had been heard in Dublin.

Under his watch, major cases were heard in Cork and Limerick in a pioneering move which saved witnesses, gardai and legal teams extended trips to Dublin.

Concerns

Mr Justice Carney also supported the right of victims to address the court via victim impact statements.

He also raised repeated concerns over the manner in which criminal sentences were amended or overturned by a Court of Appeal, which often consisted of judges who had more civil than criminal experience.

A shy man, Mr Justice Carney was a traditionalist in many ways - including the wearing of wigs in court.

He also staunchly upheld what he perceived as the dignity of the Central Criminal Court.

He would regularly remind both legal practitioners and witnesses that it was nothing less than "the criminal arm of the High Court".

Anyone who referred to him as 'judge' was immediately informed that: "Judge was a character in Wanderly Wagon."

The married father-of-four was a former night sub-editor with The Irish Press, and he took an avid interest in newspaper coverage of the cases he presided over.

He would also take journalists to task from the bench for any details in their reports he took issue with.

But he could also be gracious, halting trial proceedings if he felt witnesses or the media had a difficulty in hearing or seeing key elements of a case.

He was also no stranger to occasional controversy.

When tributes were being paid to him in Cork last March, he commented that "there is nothing voluntary" about his retirement.

Mr Justice Carney had to retire having reached the age of 72. He later admitted his retirement was "a black day".

The judge had only been able to continue to serve on the High Court bench beyond the age of 70 because he was appointed to the post in 1991, five years before a mandatory retirement age of 70 came into force for the Irish judiciary.

Mr Justice Carney, the son of Irish academics who founded a Celtic Studies course at a Swedish university, studied at Gonzaga College, University College Dublin and then the King's Inn before he was called to the bar in 1966.

He was appointed a High Court judge in 1991 and was the only judge permanently assigned to the Central Criminal Court.

Legal experts estimate that, over the past three decades, he had officiated at more than 150 rape and murder cases.

He had heard more than 50pc of all the murder trials in the State since the 1990s.

The Law Society and various victim's rights groups paid tribute to him for the fact that, despite having dealt with some of the most horrific cases in Irish criminal history, he never became cynical and was always marked by his compassion.

Hospital

Over recent times he had been troubled by ill-health.

He was forced to spend some time in hospital last January, during which he fielded questions from a deliberating jury over the phone from his hospital bed. Mr Justice Carney then returned from hospital to receive the jury's verdict.

A special banquet was staged in his honour last April by the King's Inn in Dublin.

He was also very involved in legal courses at a number of Irish universities, including University College Cork (UCC) and NUI Maynooth.

One of his lectures at UCC about the prevalence of knife crime in Ireland resulted in a man convicted before him in relation to an assault taking a challenge to the Court of Appeal.

He is survived by his wife, Dr Marjorie Young, and children, Jonathan, Julian, Philip and Rosalind. His funeral will take place at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook on Tuesday.

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