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Spotlighting Research - Internal Coherence and the Possibility of Judicial Integrity

12 Nov 2020

In this series, we spotlight exciting and impactful research currently being undertaken at the UCC School of Law. We also showcase the researchers themselves – academic staff at the School, who produce cutting-edge legal scholarship independently or through our research centres.

In this edition, we are shining the spotlight on Dr Patrick O'Callaghan and his research on judicial integrity. Dr O'Callaghan introduces his chapter, Internal Coherence and the Possibility of Judicial Integrity in M. Nicolini et al (eds) Law and Imagination in Troubled Times: A Legal and Literary Discourse (London: Routledge, 2020).

Dr O'Callaghan explains the background to his chapter, his inspiration for writing it, and how it ties into the other themes of his research.

What is this chapter about?

This chapter explores the meaning of judicial integrity. Drawing on Albert Camus’ novel The Fall and using a schema developed by the philosopher Lynne McFall, it argues that judges must ensure coherence of principle in the interpretation of law and coherence between principle and action in the application of the law. However, there is a further necessary condition of judicial integrity that is often overlooked: achieving ‘internal coherence’ or ensuring coherence between principle and motivation.

The chapter is chiefly concerned with the notion of ‘internal coherence’ and argues that that most judges will necessarily strive towards achieving such coherence. In so doing, they will need to reflect on their particular ‘role-distinct obligations’ in our political system as well as on mistakes that they have made in their official function.

But, drawing on Camus’ The Fall, this chapter explores whether judges will need go deeper still in their reflections if they are to achieve internal coherence. The central protagonist in The Fall is an ex-lawyer who maintains that one must become a ‘professional penitent’ if one is to be a judge. Put differently, he thinks that one must engage in deep introspection, paying close attention to one’s personal failings, both past and present, before one has the right to judge others. Camus’ protagonist implies that this approach to judging is the exception rather than the rule but this chapter conjectures that the sort of introspection he describes is common. In fact, it is likely to be of fundamental importance to most judges if they are to bear the burden of judgement and ‘live with themselves.’ Moreover, when combined with their experience on the bench, this sort of reflection cultivates wisdom about the meaning of justice and fairness and this explains, in large part, why we tend to trust our judges to do what is right.

Where did the idea to write it come from?

In 2018, Matteo Nicolini of the University of Verona approached me to see whether I’d be interested in contributing to his book on Law and Imagination. I had always wanted to write an essay in the field of Law and Literature and thought that this would be a good opportunity to pursue this project. I happened to be reading Camus’ The Fall at the time and it struck me that even in troubled times, when public confidence in political institutions is low, the judicial profession invariably remains one of the most trusted of all professions. I thought it would be interesting to explore what exactly we mean by ‘judicial integrity’.

Who did you write it for?

This chapter was primarily written with an academic readership in mind, but I hope that what I say might be of interest to legal practitioners too.

How does this tie to other themes in your research?

Since writing this piece, I have come across work in the emerging field of ‘virtue jurisprudence’. I plan to undertake more reading in this area and in 2021 I will be co-authoring a book chapter with my colleague, Maria Cahill, in which we will draw on this work in the context of the Fish/Dworkin debate in Jurisprudence.

More broadly, in this chapter, I apply what we might call a Law and Humanities-based methodology to legal questions. For several years now, I have sought to apply this methodology in research on personality rights.


On a lighter note...

Why did you choose to study law?

During my leaving certificate year, I was very unsure about what I wanted to study at third level but was leaning towards a degree in French or German. However, I was also very interested in current affairs and history and had represented my school in competitive debating. For these reasons, on the very last day that CAO changes were permitted, I selected Law and German at UCC as my first choice.

Who are your greatest academic influences?

Joe Harrington, the principal of Summercove National School, was a gifted teacher. Catherine O’Byrne, my German teacher at Kinsale Community School, who sadly passed away at too young an age, was deeply inspiring and ignited my interest in European languages. At UCC, I was fortunate to have excellent lecturers in both the Law and German departments. The lectures which I found most influential were Beate Dreike’s classes on Goethe and Nadolny, Gert Hofmann’s classes on Baudelaire and Levinas and Tim Murphy’s lectures in Jurisprudence. Shane Kilcommins encouraged me to pursue postgraduate research and Gert Brüggemeier was an inspiring doctoral supervisor. Other important influences include Aurelia Colombi Ciacchi and Richard Mullender.

What is your favourite law book?

Lon Fuller’s The Morality of Law is a hugely impressive yet underexplored book. It deserves to be more widely read.

What is your favourite non-law book?

Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety tells an incredibly powerful and important story about hope, hubris, triumph and failure.

What is proudest academic achievement to date?

For me, teaching is the most rewarding part of my work. I feel a sense of achievement whenever I see students having ‘ah ha’ moments in my lectures and tutorials.

Further information

Dr Patrick O’Callaghan studied Law and German at University College Cork and the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. He began his academic career as a researcher at the Centre for European Law and Politics (ZERP), Universität Bremen, where he also completed a doctorate in comparative tort law under the supervision of Professor Gert Brüggemeier. Before joining UCC School of Law in 2014, he spent almost seven years at Newcastle University's School of Law.

Dr O’Callaghan teaches tort law and jurisprudence. At UCC School of Law, he was Director of Teaching and Learning from 2014 to 2018 and was Director of Graduate Studies from 2018 to 2020. His main area of research focuses on the legal protection of personality rights (as that concept is understood in the civilian legal tradition). His most recent work has focused on two such rights: the right to be forgotten and the right to freedom of thought.

Dr O’Callaghan has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) since 2015. BAILII is a prominent member of the Free Access to the Law Movement (FALM), an international movement of lawyers exercising an important civic function in making legal materials freely available to the public online.  He is also co-director (with Maria Cahill and Luke Noonan) of the Irish Legal Information Institute (IRLII). They are currently collaborating with a team of undergraduate and postgraduate students on the IRLII project which provides a keyword searchable database of Irish legal materials. You can follow their work on Twitter @irishlawcases.

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