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Court of Appeal judge elected as Ireland’s judge on European Court of Human Rights

Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh will take up role on the Strasbourg-based court later this year

A serving judge of the Court of Appeal, Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh, has been elected as Ireland’s judge on the European Court of Human Rights.

The judge was elected on Tuesday by the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe to the Strasbourg-based court.

She was among three nominees put forward by Ireland to replace Ms Justice Síofra O’Leary as a judge of the ECHR. The two other nominees were Judge Fergal Gaynor, an international judge at Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague and Professor Colm Ó Cinnéide, Professor of Constitutional and Human Rights Law at University College London.

Ms Ní Raifeartaigh won by an overwhelming majority of 164 votes to Judge Gaynor’s nine votes and Prof Ó Cinnéide’s four votes.

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The European Court of Human Rights is an international court based in Strasbourg. It comprises 46 judges, one from each of the Council of Europe member states who have ratified the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The court applies the European Convention of Human Rights, with judges deciding complaints concerning breaches of the Convention independently and not as representatives of their member States. Its decisions are binding on countries.

Ms Justice O’Leary, who served on the ECHR since 2015, was elected the court’s first woman president in 2022. Her term on the court ends in July.

After a public advertisement process, the nominees were selected by an expert panel comprising the Attorney General, Rossa Fanning; former Chief Justice Frank Clarke and Dr Suzanne Egan, Associate Professor at the Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin.

Following approval by the Government last November, the names were forwarded to the parliamentary assembly in February.

Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh was the strong favourite for the ECHR position after being recommended earlier this month to the assembly as the most qualified candidate by a large majority of the committee on the election of judges to the court.

Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh qualified as a barrister in 1991 after attending UCD and King’s Inns.

She was appointed a judge of the High Court in 2016 and elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2019 where she sits on both the civil and criminal divisions of that court.

She has written about 150 judgments on topics including criminal law, constitutional law, immigration and asylum, EU law, probate, public law, administrative law and judicial review.

As a barrister, her practice primarily involved serious crime including murder and sexual offences, and cases involving issues of constitutional law and the European Convention on Human Rights. She was involved in the prosecution of several directors of Anglo-Irish Bank after the financial collapse in 2008.

She was also involved in a case where it emerged that a vulnerable adult, Dean Lyons, had wrongly confessed to the 1997 murders of two women in Grangegorman and ultimately another man, Mark Nash, was successfully prosecuted for those murders on the basis of DNA evidence. Nash had last addresses at Prussia Street and Clonliffe Road in Dublin when he was convicted in 2015.

That case, the judge has said, contributed to her interest in the concept of vulnerable persons and how they can be “suggestible” when being interviewed in police custody.

As a barrister, she was involved in a number of special public inquiries. She acted for the Oireachtas in its investigation of Judge Brian Curtin after his criminal trial on a child pornography charge resulted in an acquittal and in a later constitutional challenge by Judge Curtin aimed at having impeachment procedures ruled invalid. The impeachment motion lapsed after the judge resigned in 2006 on grounds of ill health.

She represented Ireland both in the Irish courts and before the ECHR. Other roles included as a member of committees established to monitor the treatment of persons in police custody and to create guidelines for Garda interviews of vulnerable witnesses during criminal investigations.

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