Skip to main content

Encomium to Gearty J

Innovation is a precious and wonderful thing. Particularly in law, where (almost definitionally, the culture is staid and conservative, innovation takes not merely extraordinary genius in discovery, but audacity and chutzpah to implement this solution in the face of institutional opposition.

It is therefore your correspondent’s delight to introduce and direct the highest praise this publication has to offer towards Gearty J of the Irish High Court.1 This glorious titan of justice, often found in the Family Law section of the Court, has had the foresight and courage to introduce what may prove the most consequential innovation in paragraph and section numbering in judgments in this century. See, for yourself, below the magnificent glory of this novel style, taken from one of the hon. judge’s recent judgments:2

Judgment of Ms. Justice Mary Rose Gearty delivered on the 29th day of June, 2022

1.  Introduction

1.1       This is an application by a father for the return of his two children, called Tara and Paul for the purposes of this judgment, both of whom are already the subject of proceedings in England.  The defence of grave risk is raised, and I am also asked to consider the views of the children.  A summary of the grave risk issue is that the Applicant is alleged to have been drinking excessively on various occasions, two of which are specified and described in the Respondent’s affidavits. It is argued that this should be seen in the light of the failure to address this risk in the country of origin.

1.2       The case involves the kind of allegations that arise often in family law proceedings. The issues raised are serious, distressing and contentious, such allegations affect parents and children deeply, but the issues are not sufficient to justify refusing an order to return children who have been wrongfully abducted.
Click to enlarge.

Observe, with care, the simple brilliance of Gearty J; the hon. judge has integrated section and paragraph numbering! It has long been apparent that having three parallel systems of numbering in a judgment (pagination, section numbering, and paragraph numbering) was unsatisfactory. When taking a judge to a particular passage, which numbering system should be used? If only paragraph numbers are used in citation, what is the point of section numbering?

Law textbooks, particularly those published by Sweet & Maxwell, have long used a form of this numbering, but at an order of magnitude less precise (by chapter and paragraph, with no room for sections). Judgments, however, have never to my knowledge employed them before my Hibernian hero, Gearty J, had the genius to employ them.

The simple utility of these numbers is readily apparent. Now, pinpoint citations, with just two extra characters, can semantically convey sectioning and paragraphination at once. It is absolutely brilliant. It is worth noting that this innovation is solely by Gearty J—none of her learnèd brothers and sisters on the Irish Bench have employed this, let alone any judges in the sundry jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. She and she alone created this innovation, and for that she deserves the highest level of praise.


I have been alerted to the fact that Clarke CJ was also fond of this style, dating back to when he was but Clarke J. The provenance and origin remain to be investigated, but I retain my fulsome praise for Gearty J! Thanks and hat-tips to Messrs Shane Finn and Tim O’Connor for pointing this out, and to Eamonn Conlon for correcting me on when this style first appeared.

  1. An Ard-Chúirt↩︎

  2. LF v SC [2022] IEHC 424↩︎