Trinity College Law Review Speaker Series – The Irish Judiciary: Origins, Culture, and Reform?

Aidan Carolan analyses the events of last night’s TCLR speaker series on the Irish Judiciary


Driven by a passion for all things Irish and judicial, law students and others turned out in force last night for a panel discussion organised by the Trinity College Law Review at the GMB. The first event of the Law Review’s Distinguished Speaker series, ‘The Irish Judiciary: Origins, Culture, and Reform?’, considered various aspects of the development of the judiciary in Ireland since the State’s inception in the 1920s and its operation today.

Each member of the three-person panel brought a different perspective to the discussion. The panel was opened by Ruadhán Mac Cormaic, the foreign affairs correspondent with The Irish Times. Mr Mac Cormaic, author of ‘The Supreme Court’, focused primarily on the origins of that court, from its foundation in 1924 and through its early years i.e. the years prior to the 1960s when, he claimed, “most people believe the study of constitutional law began”. He drew on the research he carried out for his book for his speech and emphasised over the evening that he was coming to law as an outsider who had no legal background. He recalled the steep learning curve he faced in 2013, when he was appointed legal affairs correspondent with The Irish Times, yet spoke with a quietly assured confidence that put his rapt audience at ease.

Following Mr Mac Cormaic’s speech, Dr Jennifer Carroll MacNeill made her way to the podium. In stark contrast to the journalistic background of the night’s first speaker, Dr Carroll MacNeill has strong roots in law and politics. Working as a barrister and as a political scientist, she is the author of ‘The Politics of Judicial Selection in Ireland’. Dr Carroll MacNeill moved from the origins of the judiciary onto its culture. She discussed the system of judicial appointments in Ireland, which she offered some interesting insights into; how this system operates in the US and how our own system might be reformed in the future.

The final member of the night’s panel was Professor Simon Lee, Professor of Law at the Open University, Emeritus Professor of Jurisprudence at Queen’s University Belfast, and a Fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. Professor Lee, who wrote ‘Judging Judges’ in 1988, was probably the most animated speaker of the night, adding touches of humour to an otherwise fairly austere atmosphere. As Lee stems from an English legal background, he did not try to offer any analysis of the Irish judiciary, instead choosing to examine the topic more generally. He looked quite specifically at the criticism mounted at judges through the media, an idea which followed on from one of Dr Carroll MacNeill’s points about the dangers of democratically appointing judges.

The discussion was rounded off with a short Q&A session with which each panel member engaged fully. The questions asked revolved primarily around the issue of judicial pay but also touched on the secularism of the Supreme Court and Minister Shane Ross’ ongoing dispute with the judiciary. The panel discussion was followed by a brief reception in the Phil’s Conversation Room.

The Law Review’s Distinguished Speakers series continues over the coming weeks.