Retiring High Court judge receives guard of honour from fellow Justices

Up to 40 judges of the Supreme and High Courts gathered in the yard of the Four Courts today to say farewell to High Court president Peter Kelly on his last day in that office.
Retiring High Court judge receives guard of honour from fellow Justices
Mr Justice Kelly was applauded by his colleagues, who formed a guard of honour around what is known as the judges yard, when he arrived for work about 9.30am.
Mr Justice Kelly was applauded by his colleagues, who formed a guard of honour around what is known as the judges yard, when he arrived for work about 9.30am.

Up to 40 judges of the Supreme and High Courts gathered in the yard of the Four Courts today to say farewell to High Court president Peter Kelly on his last day in that office.

Mr Justice Kelly was applauded by his colleagues, who formed a guard of honour around what is known as the judges yard, when he arrived for work about 9.30am.

He was clearly taken by surprise on seeing the unprecedented gathering but warmly thanked the judges, saying it had been a wonderful experience working with them.

The gathering included Ms Justice Mary Irvine of the Supreme Court, who was nominated by the Cabinet last week as the next president of the High Court, the third most senior judicial office.

Among the other judges in attendance were Mr Justice George Birmingham, president of the Court of Appeal, Ms Justice Marie Baker and Mr Justice John MacMenamin of the Supreme Court, Ms Justice Caroline Costello of the Court of Appeal and many judges of the High Court.

When a senior judge retires, there is normally a large gathering in court on their last day, including the Attorney General, judicial colleagues, lawyers, Courts Service staff and family members to hear tributes.

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, that was not possible and Mr Justice Kelly had also indicated he did not wish to have the traditional gathering.

The judge, who was called to the Bar in 1975 and was appointed a judge of the High Court in 1996, is a reluctant retiree but is compelled to retire this evening because he turns 70 on Wednesday.

He will spend his final day dealing with wards of court matters in his chambers. In comments earlier this week, he praised the commitment and dedication of staff in the wards of court office.

In a statement of tribute today and wishing the judge a happy retirement, Bar Council Chairman Micheál P. O'Higgins SC said Mr Justice Kelly "is an advertisement for the Irish Bar and Bench" and a "beacon for the highest standards of competence, rigour, propriety and independence".

He noted Mr Justice Kelly is now the second longest serving judge in the Irish courts, with 24 years service as a judge of the High Court and Court of Appeal and, since 2015, as president of the High Court.

He was "the leading figure in the establishment of the Commercial Court in 2004, a lasting and international legacy".

"His work in the wardship list, where justice, humanity and the law co-exist to vindicate the rights of the elderly and vulnerable, gave him particular fulfilment. This may say something about him."

Regarded as an accomplished legal writer, Mr Justice Kelly's many written judgments stand as "jewels of logic and learning and have contributed to the development of the law in many areas", Mr O'Higgins said. Equally impressive was his ability to frame a clear, fluent and reasoned ex tempore (on the spot) judgment within minutes of a case, he added.

Mr Justice Kelly's "independence and fearlessness as a judge stand as an example to his colleagues", he said.

Law Society Director General Ken Murphy said Mr Justice Kelly was a "fearlessly independent judge with a ferocious work ethic, a first class legal mind, and an utter commitment to the highest of standards for himself and others".

Courts Service CEO Angela Denning said Mr Justice Kelly was "a great friend of, and support to, the Courts Service since he was appointed to the bench".

Recalling that the judge, before being called to the Bar, had worked in the High Court Central Office, she said: "We are very proud that he is one of a number of former courts staff who went on to hold public office later in their career."

"As a judge, and as president of the High Court, he always worked in partnership with the administrative staff of the service where new processes or rules were being developed," she said. "Much of the success of the Commercial Court "can be attributed to his clarity of purpose and collaborative approach".

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