Glowing tributes to 'fair, decisive and humane' judge, Micheal Reilly

Clonmel-born judge remembered as hugely respected figure

Glowing tributes to 'fair, decisive and humane' judge, Micheal Reilly

Members of the judiciary, legal profession, gardai and courts staff paid tribute to the late Judge Michael Reilly from Clonmel at Clonmel Circuit and District Courts.

Judge Reilly passed away in November following a distinguished career.

After serving nine years as a solicitor at his family's firm James Reilly & Sons in Clonmel, he was appointed a district court judge in 1982 and served on the district court bench in Co. Tipperary and Limerick for 27 years. He was head of the Inspectorate of Prisons when he passed away.

The Clonmel man was fondly remembered at Clonmel Circuit and District courts as a courteous and humourous man and a very fair, decisive and humane judge and all joined in expressing messages of sympathy to his family. His brother solicitor Peter Reilly of James Reilly & Sons was present in court to hear and accept the tributes on behalf of the Reilly family.

In the Circuit Court, Judge Tom Teehan, who knew Judge Reilly for 43 years, described him as a "much loved and hugely respected figure in the legal community", whose death was an "enormous shock" to all who knew him.

He noted that Judge Reilly was appointed a district court judge at an "extraordinarily" young age and the qualities he exhibited on the bench "marked him out as exceptionally qualified for judicial office".

"He was judicious, incisive, decisive, courteous to all, and never prepared to leave aside his lively sense of humour," recalled Judge Teehan.

"Such was his standing in the legal world that he was assigned various 'extra curricular' responsibilities. The most notable was the chairing of the Bantry Bay Inquiry, a most prestigious and demanding assignment, and one which Michael carried off to very wide approval. "

He regarded Judge Reilly's appointment as head of the Inspectorate for Prisons in 2009, when he was near retirement and was already probably the longest serving judge in any of the jurisdictions, as a commission he was "born to execute".

"His achievements in the role of Inspector of Prisons were considerable over a short period of time and are the more remarkable for the fact that the last seven years or so involved huge reductions in spending on the prison service as in every other area of public life.”

The most important achievements, Judge Teehan cited included the compilation of 85 reports in seven years, the establishment of the independent investigations of every prison death and "massively impressive beneficial changes" in Irish prisons, particularly, Mountjoy.

Judge Teehan pointed out that it was a measure of Judge Reilly's standing outside this country that he was regularly asked to address distinguished international gatherings of human rights agencies.

He also spoke of Judge Reilly's "very real concern for the welfare of prisoners", which as a criminal defender, judge and Inspector of Prisons wasn't born by any "dewy-eyed idealism". He believed in "basic standards of decency and the right of every person to their human dignity - even those who had perpetrated deeds of the blackest dye."

Speaking on behalf of the Courts Service staff, Gerard Connolly recalled that Judge Reilly treated his staff with courtesy and valued their service and they enjoyed working to support him and were very fond of him.

"That was plain to be seen when all who could, even retired staff, turned up to pay their respects at his funeral," he recalled.

During his years on the bench, Mr Connolly said Judge Reilly ran a "very efficient" court in which he demanded very high standards of professionalism. "He was a very fair judge and always gave a worthy defendant a chance. But given that chance, the defendant was expected to avail of it and use if beneficially.”

State Solicitor Paul Fitzpatrick, on behalf of the Court's solicitors, said all of his colleagues were very proud of the fact Judge Reilly began his career as a solicitor in Clonmel and his passing was a very sad day for the legal community. He remembered him as a man of unfailing good humour and courtesy and it was no surprise he was appointed Inspector of Prisons after his career on the bench. It was a role he brought a wealth of experience to and a very deep sense of humanity.

Gda. Supt. William Leahy recounted how Judge Reilly always showed a great interest in his native Clonmel when he met him as a Clonmel detective visiting district court sittings in Limerick.

From his own experience and that of retired gardai he spoke to about the late Michael Reilly and the Reilly family of solicitors, you knew you were in for a searching time when a Reilly was defending a person in court. And you knew you would also be treated with the utmost respect, which was a distinctive trait of Judge Reilly's.

Mr Frank Quirke, BL, on behalf of the Circuit Court's barristers, also remembered Judge Reilly for the great courtesy he had shown him and described him as a very humane and generous judge, whose career spoke for itself.

Other tributes were paid to the late Judge Reilly in Clonmel District Court by Judge Terence Finn, solicitor David Morris and Jim Redmond of the Courts Service.