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Memorable Opening and Closing Paragraphs of Irish judgments: Part 2

By: Lawrence Morris BL

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Part 1 of this article (found here) provided a flavour of the many memorable opening and closing paragraphs of Irish judgments. The aim of Part 2 is to continue sharing these judgments, which are steeped in Irish legal history and many of which are accessible to be read by anyone in the world. Indeed, it must be added that written judgments are one of the only forums in which a glorious phrase such as “I detect a slight whiff of pettifoggery” (Shillelagh Quarries Ltd v an Bord Pleanála and Others [2013] IEHC 92)—that is, “petty quibbling or legal chicanery”—can be found.

Literary and Historical References

A further common theme is the brilliant habit of judges placing great literary and historical references in their judgments. In N.E. (Georgia) v The International Appeals Tribunal [2019] IEHC 700, Mr Justice Humphreys intertwines a comparison between George Orwell’s Napoleon and the Department of Justice and Equality:

“1. Anyone who has read Orwell’s Animal Farm (London, 1945), particularly if they did so at an impressionable age, will have their own candidate for the scene that lives most vividly in the memory. A strong contender on anybody’s reading is the episode in Chapter VII where Napoleon has four pigs seized and “called upon them to confess their crimes”. Having done so, they and other confessing animals “were all slain on the spot”. Like Orwell’s pitiless protagonist, the Department of Justice and Equality in the present case has not altogether appreciated the potential distinction between visiting stern consequences on wrongdoing that officialdom has uncovered, and humanely affording at least some credit in the case of undiscovered wrongdoing that a person voluntarily discloses themselves.”

Alternatively, Mr Justice Hogan in criticizing the practice of requesting overly onerous particulars which “interrogate every possible detail of their opponent’s claim”, contributed this fantastic closing paragraph in Agnes Armstrong v Sean Moffatt & Ors [2013] IEHC 148; [2013] 1 IR 417:

“49. The misplaced enthusiasm for this practice calls to mind Lee’s words in respect of a subordinate general who rashly and indiscriminately confronted his opponents at every possible opportunity: ‘too much of the lion and not enough of the fox.’ Perhaps, accordingly, what is called for is a more discriminating approach on the part of the general legal community to the question of particulars which avoids the prolix, the unnecessary and the irrelevant and which opts instead for the well placed question which genuinely clarifies a matter which actually is contained in the pleadings. In this – as in much else in litigation – the fox is more likely to prevail than the lion.”

Finally, what do the Irish sport of Road Bowling, various Latin maxims and Patrick Kavanagh’s poem Epic have in common? The answer: the concluding paragraph of Mr Justice Smyth’s judgment in Gould v McSweeney & Ors [2007] IEHC 5 which dealt with a road bowlers challenge of a disciplinary decision to suspend him for two years based upon his dangerous play and verbal abuse of an umpire:

“The relative importance of the game and the prowess of the Plaintiff are primarily but not exclusively, in this case, local. That does not diminish the concern of the parties, neither should it, as Patrick Kavanagh in his poem Epic concludes with this reflection:

 ‘I inclined to lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind He said; I made the Iliad from such a local row. Gods make their own importance.’

 Brilliant Facts

There are those cases where the summation of the facts alone makes for a memorable read. One such highlight is the opening paragraph of Mr Justice Peart’s judgment in McKeogh v John Doe & Ors [2012] IEHC 95:

“Who would have thought when in the dark hours of the 13th November, 2011, a young man got out of a taxi in Monkstown without paying the fare, that this would result in another young man, the plaintiff, who was thousands of miles away in Japan on that date, would discover on the 29th December, 2011, after his return to this country, that not only had video footage of the first man exiting the taxi been posted on YouTube by the taxi driver in an effort to have his identity revealed, but also that thereafter another person, travelling the information super highway that is the internet under the pseudoname ‘Daithii4U’ would see that footage and wrongly identify the plaintiff as being the person who had left the taxi without paying the fare, thereby defaming him, and that this zemblanity, the very opposite of serendipity, would see the appearance of a phalanx of at least a dozen lawyers before this Court for seven hours throughout yesterday for a debate of weighty issues, such as the right to privacy, the right to freedom of the press to fairly and accurately report Court proceedings, and the right to an effective remedy, the combined costs of which might be sufficient to purchase a decent house in any part of the country? Yet that is what has happened.’


It is probably apt to conclude with this cheerful and uplifting opening paragraph from Mr Justice Barrett in Adoption Authority of Ireland v AB (A Minor) [2021] IEHC 829:

“1. This is a case which has a sad beginning, arising from a tragic instance in which, some years ago, a non-Irish mother died soon after childbirth and the child she delivered also died. As a result, a non-national child (the ‘Child’) with whom the mother had come to Ireland ended up being placed in foster-care here. Very extensive efforts, utilising various different persons, including diplomatic and less formal actors, have unfortunately failed to identify who the Child’s natural father is. There is, however, a happy ending to the story. The child’s foster-mother here in Ireland wishes to adopt the Child, now a teenager, and the Child in turn wishes to be adopted by the foster-mother. So this is one of those life-affirming cases which sometimes crop up on the Family List and suggest that goodness and happiness are still abundant in the world.”

Whilst the law itself can be very detailed and tedious to follow, it is judgments like the above that reaffirm just how human each of these cases truly are.

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