Sunday 23 July 2017

First female Chief Justice to repair damaged Government relations

The new Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, will take up her new role later this month
The new Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, will take up her new role later this month

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

IRELAND's first ever female Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, is "ideal" to repair the damaged relations between the Government and the judiciary, according to colleagues.

Last night the Government nominated Judge Denham, the first ever woman appointed to the Supreme Court in 1992, as Ireland's first ever female Chief Justice.

Judge Denham, the daughter of the late Douglas Gageby, former editor of 'The Irish Times', will take up her new role later this month when the current Chief Justice John L Murray's seven-year tenure ends on Friday. Judge Denham, who was widely regarded as the front runner for the role, will succeed Judge Murray following a ceremony presided over by President Mary McAleese.

One of Judge Denham's first tasks will be to repair the damaged relationship between the Government and the judiciary following the controversy over judge's pay and pensions.

Last night, retired Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness said her former colleague was the ideal person to restore State-judicial relations.

"I am sure that she will have a good relationship with the Government in general and with the Department of Justice and Minister Shatter in particular," she said.

"Susan is an extremely fair-minded judge and she approaches every issue with utter independence. She has also worked extremely hard in the whole area of organising the courts."

The historic nomination of Judge Denham, dubbed the "last liberal" on the Supreme Court following the retirement of Judge McGuinness, follows the appointment -- earlier this year -- of senior counsel Maire Whelan as Ireland's first female Attorney General.

Judge Denham (65) is renowned as one the judiciary's leading progressives and a passionate law reformer who has advocated the establishment of a Judicial Council to govern judicial ethics and conduct.

She chaired the Working Group on a Courts Commission established in 1995 by the government to review the management of the courts.

This led to the establishment of the Courts Service, a statutory body now responsible for the entire operation of the courts.

Judge Denham is also the chairperson of the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure, which recommended the establishment of the fast-track Commercial Court to deal with big business disputes. She has written a series of dissenting rulings in major cases, including a critical 2001 case on the separation of powers. She also dissented in the Portmarnock golf case.

She also wrote the main opinion in a landmark 2009 case in which a man gained access to his child who is being raised by lesbian parents.

The nomination has been universally welcomed by her colleagues and has won broad, party political support.

Law Society director general Ken Murphy said Judge Denham's "ferocious work rate and lack of ego" would help steer the judiciary through difficult times ahead.

"There won't be revolution, but there will most certainly be reform and plenty of it," he said.

Fianna Fail justice spokesperson Dara Calleary said Judge Denham was the "most deserving" of the honour of becoming the first female Chief Justice.

"I have no doubt that she will bring her track record of reform to the role and will seek to challenge status quos," he said.

Labour TD Anne Ferris said the nomination sent out a message that states that women were not excluded from achieving high office.

Judge Denham is married to paediatrician Brian Denham and they have four children.

A member of the Church of Ireland, she is a brother of leading criminal law barrister Patrick Gageby.

Irish Independent

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