Obituary: Judge Brian Walsh

BRIAN WALSH was widely hailed as one of Ireland's greatest judges. His abilities were reflected in the speed of his promotion through a profession where youth is not normally an asset. A High Court judge at the unheard- of age of 39, he was there just two years before being promoted to the powerful Supreme Court.

Early experience as a barrister was gained on the border circuit in Cavan- Monaghan where he displayed an enormous appetite for work. His arrival on the bench coincided with a period of discontent with the accepted order in the post-Independence Catholic-leaning state.

The historian Joe Lee, in his book Ireland 1912-1985 (1989), saw Walsh's elevation as part of the overturning of the monolithic state ethos fostered under Cosgrave, de Valera and Costello governments when dissidents "either emigrated or were marginalised". Walsh was "the outstanding legal reforming mind of his generation", Lee wrote.

Perhaps more than any other decision, Walsh's 1972 ruling in Byrne vs Ireland, allowing the citizen to sue the state, altered legal history. It ended a British-inherited tradition based on the presumption that, as the barrister Seamus McKenna put it, "the Crown could do no wrong".

Other landmark judgments echoing this commitment to the individual's rights included his 1966 ruling that bail could not be withheld simply because of a belief that a defendant might commit further offences if freed.

In the landmark 1973 McGee case, he ruled the 1935 ban on the importation of contraceptives was unconstitutional. This encouraged a more liberal social climate and a gradual improvement in the status of Irish women after generations of hardship associated with rearing large families on limited incomes.

His 1974 appointment as leader of Dublin's side on the Anglo-Irish Law Enforcement Commission, a creation of the Sunningdale Agreeement, sent in the state's most trenchant defender of civil rights at a time of international anger over treatment of prisoners in custody in Northern Ireland.

He retained his independent thinking until the end of his career, with a landmark 1987 decision forcing the Dublin government to hold a referendum before it could ratify the Single European Act. Controversially, he also protected the "political exception" when the Supreme Court directed that suspects not be extradited where they were likely to suffer ill-treatment.

This came in the case of the Maze escapers Dermot Finucane and James Pius Clarke, the latter having been a victim of alleged sustained beatings during earlier custody in Northern Ireland. The five judges all bluntly agreed on "the probable risk that if Finucane were returned [to Northern Ireland] he would be assaulted or injured by the illegal actions of prison officers".

Earlier, Walsh's hostility to extraditing suspects back to that regime had seen sparks fly between himself and a colleague on the Law Enforcement Commission, Mr Justice Seamus Henchy. The two had other disagreements, notably over homosexuality, on which Henchy took the more liberal view in the long-running saga which led eventually to decriminalisation.

Walsh was also opposed to what he felt were over-liberal attitudes which he feared might encourage demand for abortion by making it an easy option and backed the anti-abortion clause in the Irish Constitution.

Alan Murdoch

Brian Walsh, barrister and judge: born Dublin 23 March 1918; called to the Irish Bar 1941, Inner Bar 1954; High Court judge 1959-61, Supreme Court judge 1961-90; member, World Association of Judges 1966-98; leader of Irish delegation on Anglo-Irish Law Enforcement Commission, 1974; President, Irish Law Reform Commission 1975-85; member, European Court of Human Rights 1980-98; married 1944 Noreen Joyce (one son, four daughters); died Dublin 9 March 1998.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Central London - £45,000-£55,000 + bonus

£45000 - £55000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: The focus of this is to deve...

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape