Currently there is a notable under-representation of female subjects displayed in the collections of The Bar of Ireland and King’s Inns despite the existence of numerous influential women in law.
Among them, Averil Deverell and Frances Kyle who were the first women to be called to the Irish Bar in 1921 following the enactment of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919.
It is vital that such pioneering women are acknowledged, celebrated and are represented on a par with their male counterparts.
The Profession’s Portrait
As part of the centenary celebrations of the first women called to The Bar, we will launch our ‘In Plain Sight’ initiative, in conjunction with The Honorable Society of Kings Inns.
The joint initiative aims to commission additional portraiture of female subjects from the profession and judiciary, to hang principally along with the existing collection at King’s Inns.
A Centenary Gala Dinner
A special centenary celebration Gala Dinner will take place on Friday, 5th November at the Honourable Society of Kings Inns.
In addition to celebrating 100 years of female participation, the event will seek to highlight the aims and ambitions of In Plain Sight; in the very setting the future commission will hang.
Only three portraits of women currently hang in the Honorable Society of King’s Inns:
Portrait of Ms. Justice Mary Laffoy, former Supreme Court Judge
Pencil and Acrylic, 2020
by Hetty Lawlor
Educated at University College Dublin and later the King’s Inns, Mary Laffoy was called to the Bar on in 1971 and took Silk in 1987. She was appointed as a High Court judge in 1995 and remained in that position until 2013 when she was appointed as a judge to the Supreme Court. She retired from that position in 2017.
She is most well known for presiding over the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse 1999-2003, a position she resigned from in 2003.
She served as Chair of the Citizens’ Assembly in 2016-2018 and is currently president of the Law Reform Commission.
Portrait of former Chief Justice Susan Denham, first female Chief Justice of Ireland
Oil on Linen, 2017
by William Nathans
Susan Denham was called to the bar in 1971 and became a Senior Counsel in 1987. As a barrister, she was involved in a number of high profile cases particularly in the area of judicial review. She became a High Court judge in 1991 and in 1992 was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. On her first day in the Supreme Court conference room in 1992 she said:
I felt . . . that I was on the shoulders of the pioneering women of previous generations.”
She is credited with many needed administrative reforms in the court system and with facilitating a more collegiate and mutually supportive culture in the judiciary. From 1995 to 1998, she chaired the Working Group on a Courts Commission. This led to the establishment of the Courts Service. She served on the Board of the Court Service from its inception, and chaired it from 2001–04. From 2006, she chaired the Working Group which recommended the establishment of a Court of Appeal. This was ultimately established in 2014.
Denham was part of the Irish delegation which, with the Netherlands and Belgium, established the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ). From 1st January 2015 to 31st December 2016, she was President of the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union which is an association of Supreme Court Presidents and Chief Justices of EU Member States. On 25 July 2011, she was appointed by the president as Chief Justice on the nomination of the government. She retired from the position in July 2017.
Portrait of Ms Justice Mella Carroll, first woman to serve as a judge in the High Court of Ireland
Oil on Canvas
by Maeve McCarthy
After studying Law at the King’s Inns, Mella Carroll was called to the Bar in 1957. In 1976 she was called to the Bar in Northern Ireland and in 1977 became the first practising female senior counsel and for a period was the only female SC practising in the Irish state. A popular and well-respected barrister, Mella was unanimously elected chairwoman of the Bar Council in 1979 and a year later she became the first woman appointed to the High Court, representing a milestone in Irish legal history. She was one of the longest serving High Court judges, having sat on the bench for 24 years.
As well as serving on the High Court, she chaired the Commission on Nursing and the second Commission on the Status of Women. In addition, she served on the administrative tribunal of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva until 2002, becoming its vice president and also president of the International Association of Women Judges.
She died in January 2006, shortly after her retirement from the High Court. When she died, she was serving as chancellor of Dublin City University and as chairwoman of the UCD Irish Centre for Commercial Law Studies. She was an inspiration to many, especially women, who wished to pursue a legal career.