Women in plain sight in the law: Síofra O’Leary, Catherine McGuinness, Frances Kyle & Averil Deverell – updated

Judge O'Leary, President ECHRSíofra O’Leary (pictured right) has been elected President of the European Court of Human Rights (press release), and will take up office on 1 November 2022. She has been a judge of the Court since 2 July 2015, a President of a Section since 1 January 2020, and Vice-President of the Court since 2 January 2022. She will be the first female President of the Court. Congratulations, Judge O’Leary!

On this blog, I’ve already noted female-majority panels in the Irish Supreme Court. Since then – and as well as from Judge O’Leary’s elevation – there have been three interesting similar developments.

First, the Court of Appeal has made history as the first court in the Republic to have a majority of female judges: it now has has nine women and eight men. More generally, women comprise 42 per cent of the Irish judiciary.

Second, a portrait by Miseon Lee, of former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, has been unveiled at the National Gallery of Ireland. Dr Mark Coen of the UCD Sutherland School of Law was the driving force behind the portrait, which was donated to the nation by Dublin law firm Matheson LLP.

Kyle & Deverell by StroudeThird, a portrait (pictured left) by Emma Stroude, of Frances Kyle and Averil Deverell, the first female barristers to be called to the Bar in Ireland, has been unveiled at the Honorable Society of Kings Inns (RTÉ news, via YouTube). On 1 November 1921, history was made at the Irish Bar. It was the first Call to the Bar in the newly fledged Irish Free State. And it was when Frances Kyle and Averil Deverell (graduates of the Law School, Trinity College Dublin) were called.

That historic event is now memorialised in the newly-unveiled portrait (pictured left). It was commissioned as part of the Law Library’s In Plain Sight series, which seeks to celebrate the achievements and enhance the visibility of women in law.

Since Kyle and Deverell were called to the bar, many women have achieved high office in Ireland, including as President, Chief Justice, President of the High Court, Minister for Justice, Attorney General, Chief State Solicitor, Secretary General of Government departments, Chair of the Bar Council, President of the Law Society, Garda Commissioner, and, now, President of the European Court of Human Rights. In Plain Sight will have much to celebrate.

Justice Gleeson, HCAUpdates (29 September 2022): The appointment of Jayne Jagot as a Justice of the High Court of Australia, means that (like the Irish Court of Appeal, as reported above) a majority of the justices of the High Court of Australia are now women. She joins Chief Justice Susan Keifel, and Justices Michelle Gordon, and Jacqueline Gleeson in a 4-3 majority. This development is put into context with other apex courts here.

(19 April 2023): Jacqueline Gleeson (Justice of the High Court of Australia) (pictured right) “Women in Law: How Far Have We Come, And Where To From Here?” (Brennan Program Justice Talks Address, University of Technology Sydney, 20 March 2023) (pdf):

the topic of women in law … has been a topic of both personal and professional interest to me for almost 40 years now. … However, it has not been a comfortable topic for study or reflection. To question or discuss the position of women in the legal profession tends to challenge aspects of the structure of the profession and, more broadly, structural aspects of our society. … [Nevertheless] One hundred years on from women being permitted to practise in every Australian jurisdiction, we have much to celebrate, and more to do. I look forward to what the future holds for the profession.

(22 January 2024): (1) A version of the photograph of Kyle and Deverell, on which the above portrait is based, features on the cover of Niamh Howlin’s great new book Barristers in Ireland ­– An Evolving Profession Since 1921 (Four Courts Press, 2023).

Klute portrait of Finlay Geoghegan(2) On 20 October 2023, the Kings Inns unveiled a portrait by Vera Klute of Frances Moran [DIB | Wikipedia]. She was the first woman to take silk in Ireland or the UK. She was also Regis Professor of Laws, Trinity College Dublin; her portrait (by Derek Hill, 1976) with her contemporary as Lecky Professor of History, Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven, hangs in the Senior Common Room in TCD; and a simpler portrait of Moran on her own hangs in the Law School in TCD. Moran features as one of the trailblazers in the Law Library’s history of 100 years of women at the bar. Klute’s portrait of Moran joins her earlier portrait of Mary Finlay Geoghegan in the Kings Inns (unveiling pictured left). After the above portrait of Kyle and Deverell, it is the second portrait in their In Plain Sight series of portraits. And it joins other portraits of Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, Chief Justice Susan Denham, and Ms Justice Mella Carroll.

(3) The Law Society of Northern Ireland [LSNI] has unveiled a portrait of Dorothea Heron [(1896–1960) DIB | first100years | Wikipedia], who made legal history as the first woman to qualify as a solicitor anywhere on the island of Ireland (Irish Legal News, 30 November 2023).