Former Chief Justices

 The Hon. Mr. Justice Hugh Kennedy   (1924-1936)                                              
 The Hon. Mr. Justice Timothy Sullivan (1936-1946) 
 The Hon. Mr. Justice Conor Alexander Maguire (1946-1961)
 The Hon. Mr. Justice Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh (1961-1972)
 The Hon. Mr. Justice William O'Brien FitzGerald (1973-1974)
 The Hon. Mr. Justice Thomas Francis O'Higgins (1974-1985)
 The Hon. Mr. Justice Thomas Aloysius Finlay (1985-1994)
 The Hon. Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton (1994-2000)
 The Hon. Mr. Justice Ronan Keane (2000-2004)
 The Hon. Mr. Justice John L. Murray (2004-2011)
 The Hon. Mr. Justice Susan Denham  (2011-2017)

 


Portrait of Hugh Kennedy

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice Hugh Kennedy (1924-1936)

b. 1879
d. 1936

Hugh Kennedy was educated privately and at University College Dublin, where he and Felix Hackett founded the student magazine St Stephens, of which he was the first editor. He was also a contemporary of James Joyce. He studied law at Kings' Inns, was called to the Bar in 1902, and to the Inner Bar in 1920. He was active in the Gaelic League and became honorary secretary of the Ardchraobh (Executive Committee) of the organisation. On the committee with him were such notable figures as Patrick Pearse, Eoin MacNeill and Eamon Ceannt. He was a legal adviser to the Department of Local Government under the first Dáil (Government) and a member of the Committee that drafted the Irish Free State Constitution of 1922.

He became Attorney General in 1922 and was elected TD (parliamentary deputy) for the constituency of South Dublin in 1923. He became the first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State in 1924 and held office until his sudden death in 1936. Among his most significant decisions were Moore v. Attorney General (1934), in which a claim by a company to fishing rights in the tidal portion of the River Erne, based on the ancient Brehon law, was rejected following a historical overview of the interaction between the Brehon law and the common law. He also presided over the Supreme Court in The State (Ryan) v. Lennon (1935), in which the Court held that the parliament had the power to amend the 1922 Constitution by ordinary legislation. Chief Justice Kennedy's famous dissent is regarded as the foundation of the subsequent "natural law" approach of the Supreme Court to the Constitution.

He was a fellow and vice-president of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vice-president of the Statistical Society, MRIA (Member, Royal Irish Academy), and a Governor of the National Art Gallery. He died suddenly in December 1936.

 


Portrait of Timothy Sullivan

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice Timothy Sullivan (1936-1946)

b. 1874
d. 1949

Timothy Sullivan was born in Dublin in 1874. He was the third son of Timothy Daniel Sullivan, a nationalist MP prominent in the Home Rule movement led by Parnell in the 1880s until Parnell's fall from power as a result of the O'Shea divorce case.

He was called to the Bar in 1895. He later became involved with the nationalist movement in the early years of the twentieth century. Upon the founding of the Irish Free State, he was appointed the first President of the High Court in 1924, a position he held until the death of Hugh Kennedy in December 1936, when he was appointed Chief Justice of Ireland. He was Chief Justice until 1946, when he was succeeded by Conor Maguire.

His most notable case as Chief Justice was the upholding by the Supreme Court of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, 1940, which proposed to legalise preventive, indeterminate internment in response to the problem of the then illegal and self-styled Irish Republican Army (IRA).

 


Portrait of Conor Maguire

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice Conor Alexander Maguire (1946-1961)

b. 1889
d. 1971

Conor Maguire was born in Cong, Co. Mayo in 1889 and was educated at Clongowes Wood College and the National University of Ireland. He qualified as a solicitor in 1914 and transferred to the Bar in 1922.

He acted as a Judge of the provisional Dáil Courts from 1920-1922, and as a Settlement Land Commissioner for Dáil Éireann. He was called to the Inner Bar in 1932 and was a senator for the National University of Ireland from 1932-1936. He served as Attorney General in the first Fianna Fáil administration from 1932 to 1936. He was appointed a Judge of the High Court in 1936, President of the High Court in December 1936 and became Chief Justice in 1946.

Among the many famous cases in which he gave judgment as Chief Justice were In re Ó Laighléis (where it was held that the European Convention on Human Rights was not part of the domestic law of the State) and Educational Co. of Ireland v. Fitzpatrick (dissenting on the issue of whether "closed shop" trade union arrangements breached the constitutional guarantee of freedom of association).

 

He was chairman of the Irish Red Cross from 1939-1946, President of the International Celtic Congress 1956 and President of Oireachtas na Gaeilge in 1962. He died in Dublin on the 26th September, 1971.

 


Former Chief Justices

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh (1961-1972)

b. 1911
d. 1978

Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh was educated at University College Dublin, graduating in Celtic studies in 1931. He was well known as a lover of Irish language and culture. He studied law at King's Inns and was an Irish-language editor of the Irish Press from 1931 to 1940. He was called to the Bar in 1934 and to the Inner Bar in 1945. Ó Dálaigh served as Attorney General of Ireland from 1946 to 1948 and from 1951 to 1953.

In 1953 he was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court and was appointed Chief Justice in 1961. In this office he played a decisive part in developing the position of the Supreme Court as guardian of the rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution: the central decision in this regard was Ryan v. Attorney General (1965), where the Court developed the doctrine of "unenumerated rights", i.e. that there was a penumbra of fundamental rights implicit in the Constitution. In 1972 Ó Dálaigh was appointed a member of the Court of Justice of the European Economic Communities (EEC) on Ireland's accession to membership. He was President of its First Chamber in 1974. He served as chairman of a number of Government commissions and of the Cultural Relations Committee.

After the sudden death of then President of Ireland Erskine Childers, he was elected unopposed as President, and he was inaugurated on 19 Dec 1974. In September 1976, when an Emergency Powers Bill was presented to him for signature, he decided to refer it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality; the Court judged that it was not repugnant to the Constitution, and he signed it. On the 18th October 1976, at an army function in Columb Barracks, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, the Minister for Defence, Patrick Donegan, called the President "a thundering disgrace". A Dáil motion by the opposition for the resignation of the minister, who had meanwhile offered an apology, was defeated on 21st October, 1976. The following day the President tendered his resignation, asserting it to be "the only way open to assert publicly my personal integrity and independence as President of Ireland and to protect the dignity and independence of the presidency as an institution".

A keen amateur actor in his youth, Ó Dálaigh was a great patron of theatre and was a close friend of the well-known Irish actor Cyril Cusack. He died in 1978 in Sneem, Co. Kerry.

 


Portrait of William OBrien FitzGerald

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice William O'Brien FitzGerald (1973-1974)

b. 1906
d. 1974

William FitzGerald was born in Cork in 1906, and was educated in Belvedere College, Dublin, and King's Inns. He was called to the Bar in 1927 and to the Inner Bar in 1944. As a practitioner he was known as a remarkably penetrating and incisive cross-examiner and a master of courtroom tactics. He was appointed directly to the Supreme Court in 1966 and on the retirement of Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in 1972 he became Chief Justice. He had a relatively brief tenure as Chief Justice. He died suddenly on 17th October, 1974.

 


Portrait of Thomas Francis OHiggins

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice Thomas Francis O'Higgins (1974-1985)

b. 1916
d. 2003

Thomas O'Higgins was educated at St. Mary's College, Rathmines, Clongowes Wood College, University College Dublin and King's Inns. He was called to the Bar in 1938 and to the Inner Bar in 1954. His family was active in Irish politics, and from 1948 to 1973, he was a TD for Fine Gael in the constituency of Laois-Offaly. From 1954 to 1957, he was Minister for Health in the second Coalition government and he established the Voluntary Health Insurance (VHI) system. He was a candidate for President of Ireland in the presidential elections of 1966 and 1973.

In 1973 he was appointed a Judge of the High Court. In 1974 he was appointed Chief Justice and held office until 1985. Among his most significant decisions were: the upholding of the constitutionality of the Emergency Powers Bill, 1976, after the President (Cearbhall O'Dálaigh) had referred the bill to the Supreme Court; The State (Lynch) v. Cooney (1982), where a statutory ban on broadcasts made by any person seeking support for Sinn Féin for the pending general election was upheld; and Norris v. Attorney General (1984), where the constitutionality of a penal statute prohibiting homosexual conduct between consenting males in private was upheld. In 1985 he was appointed a Judge of the Court of Justice of the European Communities (ECJ). In 1996 he published his memoirs, entitled A Double Life. He died in 2003.

 


Portrait of Thomas Finlay

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice Thomas Aloysius Finlay (1985-1994)

b. 1922

Thomas Finlay was educated at Clongowes Wood College, University College Dublin and King's Inns. He was called to the Bar in 1944 and to the Inner Bar in 1961. From 1954 to 1957, he was a TD for Fine Gael for the constituency of Dublin Central. In 1971, he was appointed a Judge of the High Court and was appointed President of the High Court in 1974. He became Chief Justice in 1985.

Among his most significant decisions were: Attorney General v. Hamilton (1992) where the Supreme Court held that the confidentiality of cabinet discussions was absolute; and Attorney General v. Hamilton (No. 2) (1993), in relation to parliamentary privilege, where the Supreme Court held that TDs are not amenable to any legal process in relation to utterances made by them in the Dáil. 

He also gave the leading judgment in the controversial X case (Attorney General v. X) (1992), where a 14 year old girl, pregnant as a result of rape by a family friend, was allowed to travel to England for an abortion notwithstanding the constitutional guarantee that the State would protect the right to life of the unborn.

 


Portrait of Liam Hamilton

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton (1994-2000)

b. 1928
d. 2000

Liam Hamilton was educated at C.B.S. Michelstown, University College Dublin and King's Inns. He was called to the Bar in 1956 and won the John Brooke Scholarship for the best final year student. He was called to the Inner Bar in 1968.

He was appointed a Judge of the High Court in 1974, he became President of the High Court in 1985, and was Chief Justice from 1994 to 1999. He was the sole member of a tribunal of inquiry established by the Government in 1991 to investigate allegations of illegal activity, fraud and malpractice in the beef processing industry, which sat from 1991 to 1994. He was a noted Judge of the Special Criminal Court, and presided over some high profile trials, including the Sallins train robbery case, the trials of those implicated in the murder of Lord Mountbatten off the coast of Sligo in 1979 and the Eskund gun runners.

 

As a High Court judge, among his major decisions were Murphy v. Attorney General (1982), where he held that the joint taxation of married couples was unconstitutional, and Kennedy v. Ireland (1987), which established limitations on the State's ability to interfere with the private lives of citizens.

 

As Chief Justice, among his most significant decisions were: In re the Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995 (1995), in which the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the measure enabling access to information on counselling services and abortion clinics, and T.F. v. Ireland (1995), which recognised the irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for judicial separation.

On retirement as Chief Justice, he was appointed to the enquiry into the Dublin, Monaghan and Dundalk bombings in 1976, but stepped down on health grounds. He died on 29th November, 2000. 

 


Portrait of Ronan Keane

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice Ronan Keane (2000-2004)

b. 1932

Ronan Keane was born on July 20th, 1932 in Dublin and was educated at Blackrock College, Co Dublin. He was awarded a BA in Modern History (Hons.) in University College Dublin in 1953 and subsequently studied at King's Inns where he was awarded the John Brooke Scholarship for best final year student.

He was called to the Bar in 1954 and to the Inner Bar in 1970. He ran an extensive and broadly-based practice before being appointed a Judge of the High Court in July, 1979. He presided over the Stardust public inquiry (concerning the death of 48 young people in a nightclub fire) in 1981 and served as President of the Law Reform Commission of Ireland from 1987 to 1992. In 1996 he was elevated to the Supreme Court, and was appointed Chief Justice in 2000.

As Chief Justice, some of the important cases he presided over were Sinnott v. Minister for Education (2001) (where he dissented against the Supreme Court decision that the right to free primary education only applies to persons under the age of 18), T.D. v. Minister for Education (2001) (where the Court held that judicial mandatory orders against the executive branch of government were to be granted solely in the most extreme circumstances), North Western Health Board v. H.W. and C.W. (2001) (where he dissented from the Court's decision that the parents of a child cannot be compelled to permit a PKU blood test on the child against their wishes, even if it is in the child's best interests) and Maguire v. Ardagh (2002) (where the Supreme Court held that a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas had no power to conduct an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding an alleged unlawful killing).

 


 

Current Judges

    

The Hon. Mr. Justice John L. Murray (2004-2011)

b.1943

The Hon. Mr. Justice John L. Murray was born in 1943 in Limerick, Ireland. He is married (1969) to Gabrielle Walsh (two children Catríona and Brian).

He was the Chief Justice of Ireland from 2004–2011, having been a member of the Supreme Court since 1999.  Since his term of office as Chief Justice expired on 22 July 2011 he is now the senior ordinary judge on the Supreme Court. 

Prior to that he was a member of the Court of Justice of the European Communities (Luxembourg) from 1991–1999.  In 1967 he was admitted to practice at the Bar of Ireland. In 1981 he was called to the Inner Bar.  He was Attorney General of Ireland from August–December 1982 and again from 1987–1991.
He was educated at Crescent College, Rockwell College, University College Dublin and the King’s Inns. At University he was active in student affairs and was twice elected President of the Union of Students of Ireland (U.S.I.).

He is a Member of the Council of State and Deputy Chairman of the Advisory Panel of Experts on Candidates for election as Judge to the European Court of Human Rights.  He is also a Bencher of the Honorable Society of the King's Inns.

Former Positions:
Visiting Professor of Law, Université de Louvain;
Chairperson of the Anti-Fraud Committee of the European Central Bank;
Chairperson of the Ad hoc Ethical Committee of the European Commission;
Vice President First Commission International Association of Judges.

 

He has delivered papers or lectures at, inter alia, University College Dublin; Georgetown University Law School, Washington, U.S.A.;  Princeton University, U.S.A; Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights, Athens; European Competition Law Forum, Belfast; University of Aix en Provence; Fordham University, New York; the Cypriot Association for European Law, Nicosia; International Bio-ethics Conference, 1999, Athens; the United Kingdom Association for European Law; Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis, U.S.A.; New England Law School, Mass., U.S.A., and the European Court of Human Rights; as well as at international conferences.  Most recently he participated at the invitation of the American Inns of Court as a symposium panel member with Justice Breyer (United States Supreme Court) and Lord Phillips (President, United Kingdom Supreme Court) in Washington D.C.

Honours: 

Order of Merit, Grand Cross (Grand Duchy of Luxembourg) (1999)
Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, University of Limerick (1993)
Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, New England School of Law, Mass., U.S.A. (2006)

 

 

 The Hon. Mrs Justice Susan Denham (2011-2017)

The Hon. Mrs Justice Denham was educated at Alexandra College, Dublin; University of Dublin, Trinity College; King’s Inns and Columbia University, New York, U.S.A. She was called to the Bar in 1971 and became a Senior Counsel in 1987. As a barrister she practised on the Midland Circuit and in Dublin, and had a general practice with a specialisation in Judicial Review cases. Appointed a Judge of the High Court in 1991, in December 1992 she was the first woman appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court.

Mrs. Justice Denham chaired the Working Group on a Courts Commission established by the Government to review the management of the Courts, which published six reports and two working papers, leading to the establishment of the Courts Service in November 1999.

She was a member of the Interim Board, and of the Board of the Courts Service from 1999 to 2001, and chaired the Family Law Development Committee until 2001. She chaired the Courts Service Board from 2001 to 2004; and the Finance Committee from 2001 to 2004.

 Mrs. Justice Denham chaired the Irish Sentencing Committee, the Steering Committee established to plan for and provide a system of information on sentencing.

As Chief Justice, she chaired: the Board of the Courts Service; its Finance Committee; the Committee for Judicial Studies; the Superior Court Rules Committee; the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board; and the interim Judicial Council, from 2011 to 2017. She chaired the Courts Centenary Commemorations Committee from 2013 to 2017..

Mrs. Justice Denham was the Honorary Secretary of the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Ethics which in 2000 presented a report advising the establishment of a Judicial Council in Ireland.

She was part of the Irish delegation which, with Holland and Belgium, established the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) and she continues an involvement in this Network. From 2015 to 2016, she was President of the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union, an association of Supreme Court Presidents and Chief Justices of EU Member States.

Ms. Justice Denham was the Chairperson of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, which advises on the need for change in various areas of the operation of the courts. One such recommendation has seen the establishment of a Commercial Court in Dublin, which uses state of the art technology in its deliberations. The Committee has also advised on the establishment of a new administrative infrastructure for the Courts Rules Committees.  These reports may also be seen on the above website.

In December 2006 the Government established a Working Group on a Court of Appeal, chaired by Ms. Justice Denham. The Working Group presented its report to the Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform recommending the establishment of a general Court of Appeal, it was published in 2009.

Ms. Justice Denham is a Trustee of the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, and is a Governor of Marsh's Library, Dublin.

She is a Bencher of the Honorable Society of King’s Inns since 1991, and an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple in London since 2005. Judge Denham is an Honorary Bencher of the Inns of Court of Northern Ireland since 2011.

Judge Denham is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy since 2013. From 1996 to 2010 Judge Denham was Pro-Chancellor of the University of Dublin. In July 2002, Queens University, Belfast, presented Judge Denham with an honorary Ll.D. In 2013, Judge Denham was conferred with an honorary Ll.D. from the University of Ulster, and a Distinguished Fellowship Award from Griffith College Dublin. In 2014, Chief Justice Denham was conferred with an honorary Ll.D. from University College Dublin and a D.Phil from Dublin City University.