O'Donoghue, (Patrick) Philip (1896–1987), public servant and jurist, was born 15 October 1896 in Macroom, Co. Cork, the elder son of Patrick O'Donoghue, JP and the local dispensary doctor, of Masseytown House, Macroom, and his wife, Julia McCarthy. After a distinguished academic career at Castleknock College, Dublin, and UCC, he entered King's Inns in 1916, was called to the bar in 1919, and joined the Munster circuit. He was appointed as a district justice in 1924, and served in counties Limerick and Kerry. In 1929, upon the creation by the then attorney general, John A. Costello (qv), of the office of legal assistant to the attorney general, he was appointed to that position, which he held up to his retirement in 1959.
The apparently humble title of legal assistant was rather misleading, since its status became equivalent to that of a secretary of a government department, its holder being in effect the permanent head of the attorney general's office. O'Donoghue was intimately concerned with the legal architecture and affairs of the state, the drafting of statutes and regulations, and the provision of legal advice to the government and all departments of state, including matters such as criminal prosecutions (a function transferred in the 1970s to a new office of the director of public prosecutions). His work in the 1930s included membership of two small teams of senior public servants, including John Hearne (qv), who in 1934 carried out a review of the 1922 constitution and then, between the summer of 1936 and the spring of 1937, worked on the drafting of the new constitution for submission to the dáil and to the people for adoption in a plebiscite. He and Hearne were called to the inner bar in 1939, a recognition of their work on the constitution.
The final legal appointments of O'Donoghue's career were as the Irish member of the European Commission on Human Rights in 1965 and subsequently (1971–80) as a judge of the European Court of Human Rights. This was an interesting example (and, so far as Ireland is concerned, perhaps unique) of a judicial position being filled by a person who was legally expert but not at the time of appointment in practice as a lawyer in the courts or already a judge. Both the commission and the court were established on foot of the European Convention on Human Rights (initially known as the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) adopted by the Council of Europe in 1950 and formally ratified by Ireland in 1953. In his work on human rights O'Donoghue took inspiration from the classical encyclical of Pope John XXIII, Pacem in terris, on ‘establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity and liberty’. He drew a connection between the dignity and worth of the human person, as recognised by the convention and the Charter of the United Nations, and the Christian belief that God has created man ‘in His own image and likeness’, although he acknowledged that one might search in vain in the convention for any reference, even a remote one, to any supernatural concept whatever.
The principal case of Irish interest which came before the court during O'Donoghue's period of office as a judge was that taken by Ireland against the United Kingdom because of alleged breaches of the convention, in connection with the ill treatment of persons arrested and detained in August 1971 when internment was introduced in Northern Ireland. The court held in 1978, following a report of the commission in 1976, that what became known as the ‘five techniques’ of interrogation constituted a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to the convention but not a practice of torture. O'Donoghue and the judge nominated by the United Kingdom, Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice, each filed separate judgements, heavily influenced, as may be imagined, by their respective domestic traditions and familiarity with the issues – O'Donoghue taking the view, in which three of the seventeen other judges joined him, that the five techniques had constituted torture.
O'Donoghue and his wife, Una, had four children, two sons and two daughters. He died 8 January 1987.