Born in 1950 in Clontarf, North Dublin, Kelly pursued a law degree at UCD and graduated with first class honours at King’s Inns. Rather than commencing his devilling to become a barrister, he became an administrative officer in the Civil Service and was allocated to the Department of Justice. Flying back and forth between Amsterdam and Brussels upon Ireland’s entrance into the EEC in 1973, Kelly excelled in administrative matters in European law.
Despite this, Kelly pursued his dreams of becoming a barrister and was called to the Bar in 1975. His legal mind quickly became in high demand and he was made Senior Counsel in 1986. He later became associated with cases involving at-risk children, having described the State’s failure to them a “scandal” and ordering the government to provide them with a secure care unit.
Kelly shined light onto the wards of court, a forgotten section of citizens as cases became re opened and reviewed, particularly in medical capacity assessments. Many from those wards came to thank Mr Justice Kelly personally in court, including one woman who was permitted to undergo surgery for a brain tumour bringing him chocolates.
His most profiled judgment is his High Court decision in Maguire v Ardagh, otherwise known as the “Abbeylara shooting”. Justice Kelly ruled that the Oireachtas had no inherent power to inquire into the shooting themselves. Citizens could not be assessed by an Oireachtas committee to adhere to principle of the separation of powers.
Justice Kelly will continue his service to Ireland as a member of the board of the Royal College of Surgeons and chairman of the St Francis Hospice and the Edmund Rice Schools Trust.