MR Justice Paul Carney claims to have wiped from his memory by 4.10pm each day all the grim details he has heard up to 4pm — but a former colleague doesn’t believe the judge could swear that under oath.
“When you look down from the bench in the Central Criminal Court, you’re looking into the faces of victims and families. He might say ‘that was a month ago — I don’t remember it’, but there is stuff you can’t forget.”
Certainly Judge Carney couldn’t wipe Fiona Doyle from his memory after the uproar surrounding her case this week, but whether it was Fiona’s distraught face or the furore that followed that most stuck in his mind, the consensus is that his apology to her was genuine.
“He is hugely concerned about victims. He expresses that morning, noon, and night in his cases,” says another professional acquaintance who respects the judge but equally has no hesitation in calling him “grumpy”.
Grumpy, grouchy, and tetchy are words often used to sum up the veteran’s demeanour but that will be no surprise to the judge, who has displayed admirable self-awareness of his image.
In 2006, he was hearing the Scissors Sisters trial, which was interrupted frequently to allow one of the defendants receive medical attention for her drug addiction — although it was never stated so baldly in court.
A few days before, the judge had read a newspaper report in which he was described as presiding over the case with a scowl and a curled lip and he spotted the article’s author entering the court room just as counsel for the defence gave a coded signal of the defendant’s need to leave.
“My client is a bit fatigued,” the barrister hinted.
“I am a bit fatigued myself from trying to maintain a scowl and a curled lip all day,” he replied.
Yet, for all the unwelcome headlines, he has inspired over the years, he adopts a relatively hands-off approach to the media. Apart from some barbed comments about Joe Duffy’s Liveline show a few years back and the odd dismissal of elements of the press as “hysterical”, he has kept his distance.
Liam Convey, who worked with Judge Carney as court registrar for 10 years until his retirement in 2010, says the judge is realistic about the role of the media.
“His view is that you do your business however you see it, and as best you can do it, and he will respect you for doing it and he will not encroach on you.
“Sometimes counsel will say to him: ‘Will you ask the press not to publish this’ or to refrain from doing something and he will always just say: ‘They know the law,’ and leave it at that. He has great respect for everybody’s territory — very jealous of his own territory but very respectful of others.”
As head of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Ellen O’Malley Dunlop has criticised some of the judge’s decisions, including his handling of Fiona Doyle’s case, but she too says he has always shown her courtesy. “He has always been extremely respectful of our organisation and extremely supportive of us,” she says.
It was Judge Carney who accommodated the court accompaniment scheme whereby trained Rape Crisis volunteers can support rape victims through a trial where, the current justice system decrees, they are completely unrepresented.
“That has been a hugely positive move for victims. I think Judge Carney understands the position of victims. I think he does try to get it as right as he can. The fact that he apologised so unreservedly this week is testament to the man.”
Paul Carney was born in Dublin in 1943, the son of the late Professor James and Maura Carney, both experts in Celtic literature and culture. A post at Uppsala University took them to Sweden in 1950 and Paul Carney went to school there for a time, before returning to Dublin and the Jesuit Gonzaga College.
After University College Dublin, he studied to become a barrister at Kings Inns and he has been practicing law since 1966. He dabbled briefly in politics, doing behind the scenes work for the Progressive Democrats, but he is largely a monogamous career man, with the law his only love.
His appointment to the High Court came in 1991 and he was assigned to the criminal branch of the court which, Mr Convey, explains, was barely recognisable as the stand-alone entity the Central Criminal Court is regarded as today.
“The High Court sort of disowned it. It provided the judges but not the administrative staff. There was no permanent judge — judges were rotated all the time so it was a case of who’s available? And if a case fell off the list, the list fell apart. There was nobody in charge of it.”
The result was a court that was permanently clogged and disorganised. Judge Carney put a shape on it, extended its sitting terms, set down the parameters for adjournments, created guidelines for practitioners and generally brought order and efficiency to it.
Being willing to take charge of murder and rape cases which were unappealing to many of his peers, and being good at it, meant none of the seven High Court presidents under whom he has served have taken the step of moving him to another area.
That’s a good thing, some observers say, as it means the most experienced man is on the job, but it’s a bad thing, others say, as it has allowed him create his own kingdom in which his authority is hard to challenge.
His long-running griping about the Court of Criminal Appeal is a case in point. He has been allowed to become preoccupied with it to the extent that it clouded his decision-making in Fiona Doyle’s case. “He can get a bit carried away,” said one legal veteran, at pains to stress his singular position within the courts and the pressures that come with it.
The experience of pressure at the outset of his Central Criminal Court days brought him an early dose of unwelcome publicity when he found himself in a Dublin Garda station in the early hours of a March morning in 1993 after the Shelbourne Hotel called for help to remove an unruly character who was insisting on coming in for a drink at 1.30am.
Judge Carney’s subsequent apologies to gardaí and the hotel staff were accepted and no charges were pressed.
He does enjoy a pint — of Smithwick’s, please — but none of the hotels he has frequented since — even when he took the Central Criminal Court on the road — have had cause to complain about him.
His decision to take the court to places such as Limerick, Sligo, Clare, Cork, and Mayo for the first time is evidence of his appetite for reform.
The idea was primarily to cut down on costs and the logistical headaches of moving defendants, witnesses, gardaí and evidence to Dublin for every case but he clearly enjoyed the historical significance of the initiative.
A resolute wig-wearer, he attaches importance to such occasions, and to the ceremonial aspects of procedure, titles and attire he feels should accompany them.
“He is old-fashioned in a way,” says Mr Convey.
“He would expect titles to be used correctly and protocols to be properly followed. He is not in any way pompous for himself but he would expect you to observe the niceties out of respect for the institutions and the law.”
Outside work, he enjoys literature and is well-versed in it, perhaps his parents’ legacy. He had great admiration for his father’s work and a few years ago gifted Mayo County Library a set of the professor’s papers.
Judge Carney is regarded as sociable but not gregarious. Arthritis and a rather portly figure mean he is unlikely to go leaping around the golfing greens when he retires.
On the home front, he is married to Marjorie Young, a consultant dermatologist who switched to law in the 1990s and who, as a junior counsel, occasionally appears in her husband’s court.
They live in Dartry in south Dublin in a handsome Georgian home and have four grown-up children, one of whom also went into law, in Britain. Judge Carney recently finished a term as adjunct professor of law at UCC and holds a similar position at NUI, Maynooth.
He was often tipped for a Supreme Court appointment but with just two years left on the bench, it seems likely he’ll be staying put. “He has a dry sense of humour,” says one observer.
“He has his own sense of humour,” says another, suggesting he sometimes requires the benefit of the doubt when people are deciding if his comments are intended to amuse or offend.
He recently sat on the three-judge panel that heard the unprecedented request by Marie Fleming to be allowed assistance to end her life.
They turned her down, but said in their judgement that she had “humbled and inspired” them.
The consensus is that he won’t have forgotten her by 10 past four either.