Supreme Court judgment against David Norris ‘one of the worst’, says Catherine McGuinness

Former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness has said the 1983 judgement of that court against David Norris was “one of the worst” in its history.

Speaking at an event in Dublin, Judge McGuinness, a leading figure in the recent yes campaign in the abortion referendum, said she agreed with recent criticism of the judgement on homosexuality.

The Supreme Court in 1983 delivered a majority three-two decision in the case in which Mr Norris, then a lecturer in Trinity, claimed the criminalisation of homosexuality infringed on his human rights.

The judgement, delivered by then Chief Justice O’Higgins, has been severely criticised in the Dáil, and Judge McGuinness said she agreed with that criticism.

When asked did she share the view that the Norris judgement was one of the worst ever delivered by the court, she said: “Well, it is a bit rude for me to criticise my predecessors but I couldn’t but agree.”

Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, said the judgement “may well be the worst in that court’s history”.

He did, however, single out for praise one of the two dissenting judges at the time.

“Even then, a mark of a brighter future could be found in the powerful dissent of Mr Justice Niall McCarthy.

“A deeply committed believer in the rights and republican motivation of the Constitution, McCarthy tore apart the idea that imported Victorian morality and legislation should negate the personal rights guaranteed to citizens of this Republic.”

Mr Martin’s justice spokesman, Jim O’Callaghan, followed a similar line of argument during his contribution: “I also acknowledge the role and presence of Senator Norris, who similarly took a case, which went as far as the Irish Supreme Court.

“The decision in that case is a blemish on the Supreme Court’s record. Having read it again, it is, unfortunately, the case that the Supreme Court failed in its duty to recognise that the enumerated and unenumerated rights of Irish citizens included the right to privacy and sexual privacy.”

Judge McGuinness, now retired, served as a judge of the Supreme Court from 2000 to 2006, judge of the High Court from 1996 to 2000 and was a judge of the circuit court from 1994 to 1996.

Judge McGuinness said the celebration held to mark the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation at Dublin Castle on Sunday night was a very important occasion.

She paid tribute to Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, who was the justice minister at the time of the law change.


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