Ó Caoimh, Aindrias (Ó Cuiv, Ayindries; O'Keeffe, Andreas (Andrew)) (1912–94), barrister and judge, was born 4 October 1912, second son among three sons and three daughters of Shan Ó Cuiv (qv), journalist and author, of 110 Botanic Rd, Glasnevin, Dublin, and Hanna O'Keeffe. He appears to have used all these variant spellings, ‘Ó Caoimh’ being the most common throughout his professional career. By the 1930s the family were living at 6 Harcourt Terrace. Educated at the O'Connell schools, UCD, and the King's Inns, he was called to the bar in 1935, and thereafter became senior counsel (1951), and bencher of the King's Inns (1954). He enjoyed close political and personal connections with the Fianna Fáil party; his younger brother, the Irish-language scholar Brian Ó Cuiv (qv), married Emer de Valera, daughter of party founder Éamon de Valera (qv). Ó Caoimh served as attorney general under Fianna Fáil governments (1954, 1957–65), before successive appointments to the bench as judge of the supreme court (1965–6), president of the high court (1966–74), and judge of the European court of justice (1974–84).
Ó Caoimh was intimately involved with two of the most celebrated legal cases of mid-twentieth-century Ireland. As attorney general he led the Irish government's case throughout the four years of international litigation in Lawless v. Ireland (1957–61), involving the claim made by Gerard Lawless, a leading member of an IRA splinter group in the mid 1950s, that his detention without trial in 1957 under the offences against the state act during the IRA's border campaign constituted a violation of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The case occupies a unique place in the history of both European and Irish jurisprudence, as the first case ever heard before the recently established European Court of Human Rights, thereby establishing key precedents and procedures in European practice in human rights law, and as the first occasion that Ireland as a state appeared before an international tribunal. Ó Caoimh supervised preparation of the government's written and oral submissions, and pleaded at stages before the European Commission of Human Rights, a sub-commission examining the merits of the application, and the court of human rights. At a preliminary hearing of the latter (3–4 October 1960) he became the first advocate ever to address the court. The European commission's report (14 November 1959) – the first ever regarding a complaint lodged by an individual against his state – found that detention without trial as sanctioned under Irish law breached the convention on human rights, but that Ireland had validly derogated from the convention in addressing a public emergency threatening the life of the state with measures appropriate to the exigencies of the situation. The findings were upheld (1 July 1961) when the commission referred the case to the court for an authoritative pronouncement on the issues involved. In private session before the sub-commission in 1959, Ó Caoimh contended that failure by the Irish government effectively to suppress republican attacks from its jurisdiction on Northern Ireland might inflame a loyalist backlash against the North's nationalist minority, whose rights the Irish state would be obliged to defend, leading ultimately to war between Ireland and the UK. This key but controversial argument, accepted by the commission, was omitted from the government's brief in the public hearings of the European court, and was among the arguments expunged from the published record of the case. Ó Caoimh's adversary throughout the case was Seán MacBride (qv), counsel for Lawless, who as minister for external affairs in 1950 had effected Irish ratification of the convention on human rights.
As president of the high court, Ó Caoimh presided over the first, aborted arms trial of 1970, in which a former government minister, Charles Haughey (1925–2006), and three co-defendants, faced charges of conspiring to import arms illegally into the state, intending their use in defence of nationalist communities in Northern Ireland. At a preliminary hearing in the central criminal court (24 July), Ó Caoimh openly expressed his own reluctance, and that of other judges, to take the trial – owing, presumably, to connections with Haughey and other principals involved in the case. Amid the ensuing controversy, anonymous sources described Ó Caoimh as ‘a most interesting and unusual personality’, and suggested that therefore the remark was in no way surprising (Ir. Times, 25 July 1970). On the sixth day of the trial (29 September), Ó Caoimh testily overruled objections from counsel for one of the defendants, the Belgian-born Dublin businessman Albert Luykx, to testimony involving ‘personal matters’ about the defendant that need not be ‘bandied around the court’. Counsel then suggested that Ó Caoimh was allowing the evidence in the belief that it might be hurtful to his client, adding that it was ‘illustrative of the rather unfair tone’ in which Ó Caoimh was conducting the trial. After an adjournment, Ó Caoimh dramatically announced that, ‘in view of the attack made on his conduct of the proceedings’ (MacIntyre, 75), he was discharging the jury, and withdrawing from the trial. A second trial, under another judge, commenced the next week.
Ó Caoimh was a member of the Irish legal terms advisory committee from its inception (1945), and attended UN seminars on human rights in Geneva, Stockholm, and Warsaw. A small man physically, and inclined towards petulance, he was once described by opposing counsel in open court as a ‘forensic teddy-boy’ (MacIntyre, 74), and indulged an occasional flair for the spectacular in discharging his duties. He died 30 December 1994 at his home in Ranelagh.
He married Sheila Griffith; they had seven children.