Noeline Blackwell has committed her entire professional career to the advancement of human rights and equal access to justice for all. Noeline graduated from University College Dublin in 1976 with a Bachelor of Civil Law degree. Establishing her own law firm in 1984 Noeline honed her legal skills providing vital legal advice on matters of every day importance to people. Noeline was one of the few practitioners in Dublin in the 1990’s providing expert legal advice to asylum seekers and refugees. Through her own legal practice Noeline developed a deep and intuitive sense of the solicitor client relationship; a passionate commitment to ensuring an individual’s rights are protected at the personal level.
In 2005 Noeline was appointed Director General of FLAC (the Free Legal Advice Centre). During her tenure at FLAC, Ireland entered a severe recession and had to implement stringent austerity measures. Noeline was a constant voice for those people most acutely affected by those years of austerity. FLAC won landmark test cases on consumer rights and advocated for strong policy positions that would widen access to free legal aid; particular for those in financial crisis. The organisation emerged an expert voice in the consumer credit and debt arena with Noeline herself recognised as one of the most authoritative lawyers in this area. During this time Noeline was also a member of the Board of FIDH (the International Federation of Human Rights) and elected Vice-President in 2013. During her tenure she conducted field trips to Greece on the impact of austerity measures there; along with parallel research on Ireland and the impact of the austerity measures.
Noeline led on the professionalization of pro bono legal services in Ireland with the establishment of the Public Interest Law Alliance; a project of FLAC. For the first time in Irish legal history a specific and dedicated link between civil society and the private legal profession was established. This resulted in legal assistance to thousands of individuals in areas such as asylum, housing and social welfare. It also resulted in a ground breaking decision in 2016 that guaranteed the Constitutional right to vote by secret ballot to those with a visual impairment. Pro bono legal representation was provided by Eversheds Sutherland LLP – the case study can be accessed here.
Noeline’s tenure during FLAC also resulted in huge strides for LGBT rights in Ireland through the landmark case of Foy -v- An t-Ard Chláraitheoir, Ireland and the Attorney General. The case spanned 23 years and ultimately found the Irish State had violated Dr Lydia Foy’s rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ultimate outcome was one of the most progressive pieces of gender recognition legislation in the world; which has been borrowed and replicated in other jurisdictions – a report is here.
Since 2016, Noeline has been CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, where she has continued as an impactful change maker for women’s rights in Ireland and internationally. She has advocated for legislative changes enabling better representation for victims of crime and survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence. Under her leadership, the organisation has championed a national campaign on awareness of consent in sexual relations that has raised the profile of this issue across Ireland with the aim of reducing sexual violence.
Noeline has consistently championed human rights in Ireland and abroad, as well as the potential of law to create positive social change. She has advocated for Irish state accountability on its human rights obligations under a number of human rights treaties. Throughout her career, Noeline has volunteered her time generously to social justice organisations as well as legal bodies. She been active in various Law Society of Ireland committees throughout her career. Noeline is former chairperson of the Irish section of Amnesty International and board member of the Irish Refugee Council, Immigrant Council of Ireland and Citizens Information Board, as well as the Commission on the Future of Policing. Noeline continues to sit on the Board of Front Line Defenders; an international organisation founded in Dublin in 2001, with the specific aim of protecting human rights defenders at risk. She currently chairs the innovative Child Law Project as well as the Independent Patient Safety Council. She sits on the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade’s Women Peace & Security Oversight Group and its Audit Committee and is a member of UCD’s Governing Authority.
Noeline has inspired a generation of human rights activists and public interest lawyers. Her commitment and energy are infectious.