Carroll, Mella Elizabeth Laurie (1934–2006), judge, was born 6 March 1934 in Dublin, second among four children of Patrick Joseph Carroll (qv) and his wife Agnes Mary (née Caulfield). Her father had been an officer in the national army in the early 1920s, joining in 1923 the Garda Síochána of which he was ultimately commissioner. Called to the Irish bar in 1932, he never practised.
She was educated in Dublin at Leeson Street convent and at UCD, where she graduated in French and German. She studied at King's Inns and was called to the bar in 1957, having been awarded the John Brooke scholarship. She underwent her pupillage (known as 'devilling') with John Kenny (qv), who was later to become a distinguished judge of both the high and supreme courts. As a large amount of Kenny's work at the bar fell under the broad category of 'chancery', Carroll, under his inspiration, built up a reputation for herself in one specialised branch of chancery law, 'conveyancing'. Before long, she was being sent titles on which to advise by some of the leading firms of solicitors in Dublin. She became highly respected by her elders at the bar in conveyancing. ('Elders' is the appropriate word as many barristers specialising in this branch of the law tended to be of a good age, some of them octogenarians.) She rapidly gained their respect though they always addressed her as 'Miss Carroll' and she them in equivalent terms. It was considered at that time that the long established custom of members of the bar calling each other by their first names applied only to the male gender. The gradual emergence of a busy female bar led by Carroll changed all that.
At the junior bar, Carroll's primary practice as a conveyancer meant that her appearances in court as an advocate were rare. This dramatically changed after she became a senior counsel in 1976. Not only did she develop a reputation for competence in court advocacy but she even accepted briefs in civil cases involving juries. This mixed practice can only have been of great assistance to her when she became a high court judge dealing (at her own wish) with every kind of case including criminal trials, one of them being the famous Catherine Nevin murder case.
In 1979 she became the first female to be elected chairman of the Bar Council of Ireland, and in the same year the first woman to be elected an ordinary bencher of the Honorable Society of King's Inns. The following year she became the first female judge of the high court (6 October 1980). She held that post until she retired due to illness in November 2005. As soon as she was appointed a judge, she made a decision not to follow the somewhat eccentric practice followed in England whereby female high court judges were styled 'Mrs Justice' irrespective of whether they were married or not (the theory being that 'Miss Justice' was dangerously similar to 'miscarriage of justice'). Miss Justice Carroll, as she came to be called, from the beginning scrupulously applied the full rigour of the law in conducting her cases. This did not always make her popular with practitioners putting forward sympathetic but weak legal arguments on behalf of their clients. These attributes were part and parcel of a strict constructionist approach where the law was concerned, combined with a strong sense of duty which Carroll possessed throughout her time on the bench.
She became unpopular with the media for a short period while conducting the Catherine Nevin murder case (February–April 2000). Some newspapers had taken to commenting each day on the accused's clothes and appearance during the previous day, which was upsetting the accused. Carroll took the unusual step of strictly forbidding any further comments on the the accused's appearance or demeanour during the trial as, in her view, the accused was entitled to be at ease and not unnecessarily disturbed by external factors during her trial. In legal circles, this ruling was met with approval.
On the civil side, she tried many important cases. She is regularly cited in the context of judicial review. In McNamara v An Bord Pleanála  3 I. R. 453, Carroll's interpretation of a particular statutory provision laying down stricter criteria than the norm for obtaining leave to bring a judicial review application, which has been replicated in other statutory schemes, has been universally followed in the high court and endorsed by the supreme court.
Carroll was the trial judge in Re Hunting Lodges Limited (in Liquidation) and the Companies Act, 1963 to 1982  ILRM 75, in which an application was made to obtain a court order to make the husband and wife, who were the only two shareholders and directors of a limited company, responsible for all the debts of the company on the basis of fraudulent trading. There were a number of points raised in the case relating to the definition of fraudulent trading but its fame is largely based on the passage in Carroll's judgment making it clear that the wife could not escape being subject to such an order on the basis that she allegedly played no part in the running of the company:
'The day has long since passed since married women were classified with infants and persons of unsound mind as suffering from a disability insofar as responsibility for their acts was concerned, or since a married woman could escape criminal responsibility on the grounds that she acted under the influence of her husband. Mrs Porrit cannot evade liability by claiming that she was only concerned with minding her house and looking after her children. If that was the limit of the responsibilities she wanted, she should not have become a director of the company, or having become one, she should have resigned.'
In her later years as a judge, Carroll was heavily in demand to give freely of her time to other public functions. She chaired successively a commission dealing with the boundaries of county and county borough electoral areas (1984), the second commission on the status of women (established in 1991 and reporting in 1993), and the commission on the nursing profession (1997); she was too chancellor of Dublin City University. From 1984 until her death, she was a commissioner of charitable donations and bequests for Ireland, the first woman to have been so appointed. At different times she was involved in boards relating to the governance of Blackrock College and Castleknock College. Perhaps most importantly of all, she was a long-standing member of the administrative tribunal of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, established to determine employment disputes in that organisation. As an inveterate traveller in her own right, the Geneva tribunal gave her particular satisfaction. It was widely believed that in order to retain membership she refused an offer of promotion to the supreme court.
In private life, she was shy, reserved and unassuming; in the execution of her public duties, she was forthright and decisive. She lived virtually all her life in Cowper Drive, a Dublin 6 cul-de-sac, where she was popular with all her immediate neighbours. In that respect, she led a homely and simple life which she combined with being an enthusiastic traveller and opera lover. She was a member of the Wagner Society and a regular frequenter of Bayreuth. Notwithstanding that her father was president of the Olympic Council of Ireland and president of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, sport was not one of her interests.
Relatively late in her career there entered a new commitment. She had not been known to have any special interest in feminism until, to the surprise of her friends and colleagues, she unexpectedly became a passionate promoter of women's rights following her period chairing the second commission on the status of women. That commission made radical recommendations, some of which remain unimplemented. Carroll's newly found feminism affected many aspects of her life. One small aspect of it was her announcement in court that she no longer wished to be addressed as 'My Lord' and that she should be addressed as simply 'Judge'. In 1995 a far more significant consequence of her new-found reputation as a feminist was an objection taken by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) to Carroll's hearing an action brought by the Dublin Well Woman Centre Limited against the state, the ground of objection being apparent bias. The centre was seeking a declaration that it could make available within the state information relating to abortion services lawfully available in another member state of the European Union. The argument for bias was based on the fact that Carroll, as chairwoman of the commission on the status of women, had written to the taoiseach indicating that it was the commission's view that women should have the right to avail themselves of counselling and information in relation to abortion as well as the right to travel abroad in order to obtain an abortion. Asked by SPUC to recuse herself from trying the case, Carroll refused to do so on the grounds that she was not, in fact, biased. However, the SPUC objection had been raised on the basis of apparent and not actual bias, and her decision in this regard was overruled by the supreme court, ironically in a judgment delivered by the only other female judge of the superior courts at the time, Mrs Justice Denham.
Following her work as chairwoman of the council for the status of women, Carroll approached with equal enthusiasm her role chairing the commission on nursing. She steered the commission towards making radical recommendations concerning the educational and career paths of nurses. A special tribute was paid to her by Liam Doran, general secretary of the Irish Nurses Organisation, after her death. Her reputation spread throughout other jurisdictions, and culminated in her election as president of the International Association of Women Judges (2000–02). She was made an honorary fellow of the Faculty of Nursing of the RCSI (2002), and was awarded honorary degrees (LLD) by the University of Ulster (2003) and the NUI (2004).
Throughout most of her involvement in judicial and extramural activities, Carroll was suffering from cancer but fought it successfully for some fifteen years. Her courage in this regard was hugely admired. Although she never married, she was a devoted family person, enjoying the company of brothers and sister and nephews and nieces. She also had a strong capacity for friendship. A good deal of her travelling around the world was done with personal and lifelong friends. She had a particular love of Kerry, where she stayed in the family holiday home, part of a converted coastguard station in Waterville.
Mella Carroll died in St Vincent's Private Hospital, Dublin, on 15 January 2006. After a funeral mass in her parish church on Beechwood Avenue, she was buried with her parents in Waterville, Co. Kerry.