"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

New judicial appointments

The Government nominated 17 new judges on Wednesday. The appointments involve six new High Court judges, five new Circuit Court judges and six new District Court judges. The Irish Times suggests it is the largest number of judicial appointments at one time ever. (This makes sense. After all, as recently as the 1960’s, there were only five or six High Court judges.)

The High Court appointees include some interesting choices.
George M Birmingham SC practices in judicial review and criminal law; he often prosecutes criminal cases on behalf of the State. Born in 1954, he is a graduate of Trinity and King's Inns. After serving on Dublin City Council, Birmingham was elected TD for Dublin North Central in 1981 for the Fine Gael party and served until his defeat in the 1989 general election. In the 1980's, he was at various times Fine Gael junior minister in the Departments of Education, Labour and Foreign Affairs, during Garrett Fitzgerald's time as Taoiseach. More recently, Mr Birmingham was the sole member of the Commission of Inquiry into the death while in Garda custody of Dean Lyons. (The report is available here.) Google "George Birmingham SC prosecuting" and you will find some of the many cases in which he has acted. (The Courts Service, likewise.) Also perhaps of interest is that he is listed as a supporter of Ivana Bacik's campaign for the Seanad.

Garrett Sheehan, solicitor, is described by The Irish Times as having “one of the biggest criminal law defence practices in the country.” A graduate of Michael McDowell's alma mater Gonzaga Colege in
1964, where he was a classmate of Peter Sutherland, Mr Sheehan has been a qualified solicitor for 38 years. Sutherland, a friend of 50 years' standing describes him as "a real champion for justice and the less fortunate." Fr Peter McVerry has been equally complimentary. His firm, Garrett Sheehan & Co. solicitors, has been described as "a leading firm of solicitors in the area of Criminal Law". Following a trail blazed by Mr Justice Michael Peart, Mr Sheehan is only the second solicitor to be directly appointed to the High Court.

Circuit judge Bryan McMahon (well known to law students of the last quarter-century as author of the leading textbook on the law of torts) is promoted to the High Court. A Listowel man and the son of the writer of the same name, Judge McMahon is also chairman of the Abbey Theatre and of the
National Archives Advisory Council, as well as holding an adjunct professorship at University College Cork. Indeed, as he recalled in a 2000 speech to law and commerce graduates, Judge McMahon has a long connecton with UCC. An Irish Independent article described him as "an eminent jurist" and "clearly material that deserves a position on the Supreme Court." Before being a judge, he was a solicitor.

In addition, John Edwards SC, who (like George Birmingham) specialises in judicial review and criminal law (as well as arbitration and dispute resolution), joins the High Court bench. Cork-based senior counsel Patrick McCarthy and, last but by no means least, Mary Irvine SC (who becomes by my count the sixth female High Court judge in the history of the State), make up the High Court appointees. Mr McCarthy, who specialises in judicial review and criminal law (a pattern seems to be emerging), currently serves on the Bar Council. Ms Irvine has been a legal assessor for the Dail Public Accounts Committee. (In an interesting coincidence, the three senior counsel named as legal assessors at that link have all since been appointed to the High Court.)

The new appointments increase the number of High Court judges from 32 to 38.


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