Ms Justice Mary Irvine has been formally appointed to the position of President of the High Court; making her the first woman in the history of the state to be appointed to this role.
Irvine studied at University College Dublin (UCD), as did the previous President of the High Court, Peter Kelly. This succession is not at all unusual as many past Presidents of the High Court have studied at UCD. Kelly was compelled to retire in June as he turns 70 this month. When Kelly arrived to work on his last day, the 17th of June, his colleagues applauded him and formed a guard of honour.
UCD has posted on their social media accounts in favour of Irvine’s appointment. The President of the Law Society of Ireland, Michele O’Boyle, has spoken highly of Irvine in light of the news. O’Boyle believes that she “will bring the qualities of independence, deep legal knowledge and insight that have characterised her distinguished career as a judge.”
The Office of the President of the High Court was created under the Courts of Justice Act in 1924. Irvine will be the fifteenth person to take on this role in Irish history. Although this position is the third most senior judicial post, after the Chief Justice and the president of the Court of Appeal, it is still considered the most influential role in the courts system. Irvine will be in charge of the proceedings of the High Court, which has jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases.
Irvine was educated in Mount Anville Secondary School, UCD and Kings Inn. In 1978, she was called to the Bar of Ireland and after she became a senior counsel in 1986, she specialised in medical law. In 2007 she was appointed as a judge to the High Court and in 2014 she was elevated to the Court of Appeal. Last year, she was appointed to chair the Statutory Tribunal which would process claims by women negatively affected by the State’s Cervical Check screening programme. This has had to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the past decade, the increase in female representation within the Irish judicial system has been notable. This year, it was recorded that 38% of Irish judges were women when over two decades before, in 1996, this figure had been 13%. Gender parity has almost been achieved in many courts, including the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the Circuit Court. During the consideration process for the next President of the High Court back in May, sources did suggest that there would be considerable support for a candidate like Irvine, who could become the first female president of the High Court.
In 1995, Irvine appeared with Peter Kelly, to argue on behalf of the unborn when the president of the time, Mary Robinson, referred the Termination of Pregnancies Bill to the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality. In 2003, she was a legal adviser to the Christian Brothers at the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. A month ago, applicants for the president of the High Court were asked to outline their capacity to drive reform.
Brigid Molloy – Reporter