Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments Judges' Troubles and the Gendered Politics of Identity. Edited by. Mairead Enright, Julie McCandless and Aoife O'Donoghue

AuthorMs. Justice Aileen Donnelly
[2017] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 1 90
Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments Judges’ Troubles and the Gendered
Politics of Identity
Eds. Mairead Enright, Julie McCandless and Aoife O’Donoghue
Hart Publishing (Oxford and Portland, Oregon) 2017.
Ms. Justice Aileen Donnelly, High Court
It was not until 1963 that Ireland appointed its first woman judge when Eileen Kennedy was
appointed to the District Court. Since the appointment of Mella Carroll to the High Court in
1980 “there has been an at first rather slow but swelling number of women on the Irish
bench”. In Northern Ireland, the first women superior court judges (Siobhan Keegan and
Denise McBride) were only appointed in 2015. During the War of Independence leading
feminist activists and suffragists, such as Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Maud Gonne
McBride, served as judges of the Dáil Courts. In the absence of disseminated judgments, we
can only speculate about how their feminism might have influenced t heir rulings and to what
extent they brought a distinctly feminist perspective to the judicial process.
This thought provoking new book, inspired by projects in Canada, England and Australia, sets
out to experiment with the impact feminist perspectives could have had on well known cases
from both jurisdictions on this island. Through a process of judicial re-imagining, the
commentaries and judgments explore how feminist judges, bound by the same law, doctrinal
strictures, conventions, temporal knowledge and evidence as the original decision maker could
have decided the case, or reasoned the case, differently. In common with other feminist
judgment projects, there is a commentary before each judgment which explains the original
decision and puts the case in its social context. These commentaries are essential features of
this book and make these feminist judgments accessible to both lawyers and non-lawyers who
may or may not be familiar with the original judgments.
The projects have been described as a form of “academic activism” which seeks to intervene
in prevailing academic and political discourse around law and its limits. The editors of this
book state: “While feminist legal theory has long warned against over-investment in the law -
particularly judge-made law as a site within which progressive social or political
transformation might begin, feminist judgments are increasingly regarded not only as
advancing critique of legal judgment, rules and doctrine, but also as uniquely accessible and
powerful models of alternative judicial practice.”
Implicit within this feminist judgment project is that a woman judge is not necessarily a
feminist judge and a feminist judge is not necessarily a woman judge; in this book both women
and men write the re-imagined judgments. Rosemary Hunter, an editor of Feminist Judgments
from Theory to Practice (Oxford, Hart Publishing, 2010), the book resulting from the English
feminist judgments project, concluded that a more diverse judiciary could result in different
decision making but that was not an inevitability as a number of factors may intervene. The
presence of a diverse judiciary is however important symbolically, as well as in courtroom
management and behind the scenes contributions. In her introduction to the Hunter et al
edition, Baroness Hale of the UK Supreme Court pointed out that it is a given that all judges

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