The Role of the Chief Justice

Ireland has a tripartite constitutional structure of government. The Constitution provides for three organs of State exercising governmental powers, Executive, Legislative and Judicial.

Constitutional Role

The Chief Justice of Ireland is the President of the Supreme Court and titular head of the judiciary, the judicial arm of government.

The Constitution also attributes two specific additional functions to the Chief Justice:

Firstly, pursuant to Article 14 of the Constitution the Chief Justice is the first member of the Presidential Commission, which exercises the powers and functions conferred on the President in the event of the absence of the President, his or her incapacity, in the event of the Office being vacant for any reason or where there is a failure to exercise and perform the powers and functions of the Office. The other members of the Presidential Commission are the Ceann Comhairle (Chairman of Dáil Éireann, the chamber of deputies) and the Chairman of Seanad Éireann (the Senate).

Secondly, under Article 31 of the Constitution, the Chief Justice is a member of the Council of State, a body which aids and counsels the President of Ireland in the exercise of such of his or her powers as are exercisable under the Constitution after consultation with the Council of State. For example, under Article 13.2.3, the President may at any time, after consultation with the Council of State, convene a meeting of either or both of the Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament).

Former Chief Justices, along with former Presidents of Ireland and taoisigh, remain members of the Council of State for life.

Judicial Role

The Chief Justice has responsibility for all aspects of the work of the Supreme Court. She does not sit on all cases which come before the Court but does so regularly and will invariably preside in cases concerning the constitutionality of statutes, the reference of a Bill to the Supreme Court by the President pursuant to Article 26 of the Constitution and other cases of importance. In addition to presiding at hearings of the Supreme Court the Chief Justice has the responsibility of managing the Court including the assignment of Judges to cases coming on for hearing.

The Chief Justice is ex officio a member of both the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

Other responsibilities

In addition to the purely judicial duties and administrative responsibilities associated with the Supreme Court itself, the Chief Justice has a range of other administrative responsibilities. She occupies the following positions:

1. Chairman of the Courts Service Board.
2. Chairman, Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.
3. Chairman, Judicial Studies Institute.
4. Chairman, Superior Courts Rules Committee.