‘Pre-eminent’ Carney judged tough, fair, and an innovator

Paul Carney died just five months after retiring. He was once the most senior criminal judge in the country, and adjudicated over some of Ireland's most high-profile criminal cases, including those involving Wayne O'Donoghue and the Mulhall sisters.

Ann O’Loughlin looks back on the high-profile and occasionally controversial career of the late Justice Paul Carney

THE judge who presided over some of Ireland’s most high- profile criminal cases in the last two decades has died, five months after his retirement.

Tributes were yesterday paid to the one-time most senior criminal judge in the country, the former presiding judge of the Central Criminal Court, Mr Justice Paul Carney who has died aged 72.

During his time on the bench, Mr Justice Paul Carney who was no stranger to controversy, was regarded as fair, a stickler for tradition, and credited with leading the way in putting in place a structured criminal justice system.

The country’s most senior criminal judge, Mr Justice Carney for 24 years presided over the top criminal trials in the State including rape, murder, and manslaughter cases such as those involving Wayne O’Donoghue, Michael Bambrick, and sisters Linda and Charlotte Mulhall.

Only recently, he was a member of the three-judge High Court which heard the case of Marie Fleming, who challenged the law making assisted suicide a criminal offence.

Mr Justice Paul Carney
Mr Justice Paul Carney

In a statement, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said Judge Carney’s death so soon after his retirement, was “a sad loss for his family and for the judiciary which he served with such distinction for so many years”.

“He was the pre-eminent criminal law judge in the central criminal court in our time, presiding in a long career over more than 100 murder and rape trials. He did so with exemplary fairness throughout, a fact acknowledged by not only by practitioners but in many instances also by those standing trial before him,” Mr Justice Kearns added.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said Mr Justice Carney was a judge of exceptional ability who made a huge contribution to the High Court bench.

“I know he will be greatly missed and sadly he did not get to enjoy the benefits of a long and well-deserved retirement,” she said, extending her sympathy to his wife and four children.

Mr Justice Carney was called to the Bar in 1966 and was appointed a High Court judge in 1991.

On his retirement and at a special sitting, where he heard tributes which described him as “tough but fair”, “an innovator” and a “strong advocate,” Judge Carney had indicated he was a reluctant retiree and said the day he stood down from the bench was a “very black day” as he had worked in law for more than 50 years.

Regarded as the judge who took charge of the central criminal court in every sense when he took over in 1991, he put a shape on it, extended its sitting terms, set down parameters for adjournments, and created guidelines for practitioners. He brought the court outside Dublin for the first time to Limerick, Sligo, Clare, Cork, and Mayo.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Mr Justice Carney also took on the most unsavoury of rape and murder cases himself and was once quoted as claiming to have wiped from his memory by 4.10pm each day all the grim details he had heard up to 4pm.

There was controversy in 2007 when Majella Holohan said she was “hurt and offended” at the controversial remarks of Mr Justice Carney about her victim- impact statement at the sentencing of Wayne O’Donoghue for the killing of her 11-year-old son Robert in Midleton, Co Cork.

The judge, without naming the Holohan case, said the comments in the victim impact statement led to the killer wrongly labelled as a paedophile in the media and had undermined the court’s efforts to impose a sentence that would let him reconstruct his life.

In a lecture in Cork, the judge indicated any victim of crime who willfully abuses the victim impact procedure would be dealt with firmly by the courts. The address was understood to be referring to a departure from a statement by Majella Holohan at the trial of her neighbour O’Donoghue who had pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Mr Justice Carney also had a fraught relationship with the court of criminal appeal with controversies erupting over sentences imposed.

Mr Justice Paul Carney
Mr Justice Paul Carney

In 2012, the judge released, on bail, rapist Patrick O’Brien, aged 72, Oldcourt, Bray, Co Wicklow, pending appeal after sentencing him to 12 years jail with nine suspended for the rape and indecent assault of his daughter Fiona Doyle over a 10-year period. Judge Carney later apologised to Ms Doyle over his “insensitive” decision to grant bail to O’Brien pending appeal. The Court of Criminal Appeal found the sentence unduly lenient and gave O’Brien another seven years in jail.

There was also an initial imposition of a suspended sentence on Adam Keane from Darragh, Co Clare, over the rape of Mary Shannon as she slept in her home. The appeal court increased the sentence to 10 years with the last three years suspended.

The appeal court ordered a retrial in the case of Mayo farmer Padraig Nally for shooting dead Traveller John Ward in 2005. Nally had been jailed for 11 months but was later freed by the court of criminal appeal after it found the trial court should have allowed the jury consider a full defence of self-defence.

Bar Council chairman David Barniville said when Mr Carney retired from the central criminal Court he had left it “in a far better place than it was when he found it”.


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