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Opinion: 'We are lucky in Ireland that we have a strong legal system where the rule of law is so firmly defended'

Two young barristers, Róisín Cottrell and Ben Clarke, discuss the reasons they chose their profession.

Ben Clarke and Róisín Cottrell

This week, the Supreme Court released its second annual report, showing a 56% increase in productivity, despite a one-fifth rise in new cases before the court.

The report says that the wait time for a hearing in most cases now for the Supreme Court is 122 days, around four months. This is a significant improvement in wait times, and this is down somewhat to the clearing of legacy cases.

It comes at a time when Ireland, post-Brexit, has become the largest remaining Common Law country in Europe.

The Supreme Court’s National Outreach Programme saw the panel sit in Waterford this week, with the Chief Justice Frank Clarke launching the report and welcoming the improvements.

He also welcomed a pilot Comhrá (conversation) programme which enables secondary school students to ask questions by live video-link to judges of the Supreme Court. The court visited five schools in the South East and engaged with the students. It’s a sign of an Irish judicial system that is keen to carve a reputation for accessibility and inclusivity.

Also this week, the inaugural ‘Justice Week’ begins, spearheaded by The Bar of Ireland, with the objective of raising awareness amongst those aged under-25s about the importance of the justice system, and how the law protects fundamental rights and freedoms.

Below, two young members of The Bar explain what motivated them to join the barrister profession:

Ben Clarke, Barrister-at-Law

113087-Ben-Clarke Ben Clarke

I WAS CALLED to the Bar of Ireland in 2013, but when I was in school, I had no definite plan or aim to work in law.

After finishing school in 2005 I studied sound engineering and music technology. Over the next few years, I was involved in music.

Unfortunately, during that period I had an accident in which my hearing was damaged. Although I remained involved in music, shortly after that point, and mostly out of general interest, I took an Arts Degree at University College Dublin. I did a joint major in English and Greek & Roman Civilisation. These were subjects I always enjoyed in school.

While it wasn’t my initial goal to become a barrister, throughout my time at UCD I became more interested in the idea. I went to the Kings Inns and made friends and colleagues for life.

I love the variety of the job; no day is the same. With each case, or at least in many cases, one has the opportunity to learn about new people, sectors or industries.

When one mentions the concept of ‘access to justice’, I think most people tend to think of access in the criminal context. However, in Ireland, there is little or no legal aid in most areas of civil law, save for family law.

For that reason, access to justice in the civil context is very often dependant on solicitors and barristers being willing to take on cases on a pro bono basis or, at the least, without any guarantee that they will ever be paid.

Particularly in chancery or commercial list cases, this can involve very large amounts of work been undertaken for free and, even when costs are awarded in favour of such a client, it can be years before a practitioner actually receives payment. I think many solicitors and barristers do the public some service in this regard. This probably isn’t something that most members of the public realise.

I understand why the Courts may seem intimidating to some members of the public. However, working in the law in Ireland is a very satisfying job because you’re always helping people.

We are lucky in Ireland that we have a strong legal system where the rule of law is so firmly defended. Everyone in society benefits from that, no matter what their circumstances. It’s not something that we should take for granted.

There are many countries, both near and far, where the rule of law is being less than respected at the moment. That is something that we should all be concerned about.

The independence of our judiciary, and the way in which the rule of law is respected here, is something we should be proud of, and which we should continue to vigorously defend.

Róisín Cottrell, Barrister-at-Law

Roisin Cotrell Roisin Cotrell

This is my first year at The Bar and I really love my job. I studied Law and Psychology at the University of Limerick before moving to Dublin.

I worked in some great firms like Ronan Daly Jermyn Solicitors and Eversheds-Sutherland and spent two and a half years working with the NAMA Commission of Investigation before I started the Barrister-at-law Degree in the Kings Inns in 2018.

I always wanted to be a lawyer. I did a work placement in the Courts when in Transition Year and I spent the week sitting in on a murder trial and watching some of the district court criminal cases – it was a real eye-opener as a 15-year-old!

Watching that murder trial, I learned a lot about access to justice, which is such a central part of our justice system, and the work of barristers.

It’s the duty of barristers to be independent and free from any influence, in the discharge of their professional duties as barristers.

No matter what a person has done, or is accused to have done, everyone is entitled to access to justice and legal representation. I was inspired when watching the barristers that week, and how they used their knowledge of the law to represent their clients fearlessly, irrespective of the circumstances.

For more information on Justice Week click here.

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Ben Clarke and Róisín Cottrell

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