Tuesday 12 November 2019

Stand-out candidate Clarke is only name brought to Cabinet for Chief Justice role

Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke in the Four Courts yesterday. Photo: Collins Courts
Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke in the Four Courts yesterday. Photo: Collins Courts
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Influential Supreme Court judge Frank Clarke will become the country's 12th Chief Justice when he is appointed later this year.

His was the only name brought to Cabinet for consideration at its final meeting before the summer recess.

There had been speculation ministers would be given a three-judge shortlist to choose from, but just one name was proposed yesterday by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

A Government-appointed committee had shortlisted three judges out of 15 or so who expressed an interest in the role, in a process set up to mirror arrangements contained in the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.

The bill states three names must be given to the minister, but is silent on whether these should in turn be put before the Cabinet.

It is understood a decision was taken to bring forward just one of the three names to Cabinet following discussions between Mr Flanagan, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Attorney General Seamus Woulfe.

Government sources said this was in line with previous practice and that there was no appetite to have ministers debating the merits of one eminently qualified judge over another.

Sources said no concerns were raised about the process by Transport Minister Shane Ross, who has been the driving force behind proposed reforms to the way judges are appointed.

Mr Justice Clarke (65) has strong Fine Gael connections, having written speeches for former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald. He also acted as election agent for former junior minister George Birmingham, now a judge of the Court of Appeal, in the 1980s.

Influential

Mr Justice Clarke will take over from Ms Justice Susan Denham, who will retire as Chief Justice in August having reached the age of 72.

He was widely recognised as one of a small number of stand-out candidates for the role and his nomination has been widely welcomed across the legal professions.

A former barrister, the Dublin-born judge was appointed to the High Court by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats government in 2004.

He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2012.

Mr Justice Clarke is a graduate of Drimnagh Castle CBS, UCD and Kings Inns and was the first in his family to attend university. He is considered one of the most influential and socially liberal judges on the Supreme Court and has usually been in the majority where the court has been split in its judgments.

Law Society director general Ken Murphy said Mr Justice Clarke was "a very popular choice" and described him as a judge with "a well-rounded skill set" and "a lack of ego".

"He is someone with a first class legal mind that carries his learning very lightly," Mr Murphy said. "He has the personality and the political skills that are required for a job of this importance."

The chairman of the Council of the Bar of Ireland, Paul McGarry SC, said Mr Justice Clarke was "widely respected" in the legal profession for his "consistently fair, sound and insightful judgments".

"He doesn't come from a legal background and was the first person from his family to attend college, so he is a fine and welcome example to any aspiring legal student that the sky is the limit when it comes to what can be achieved with the right talent and dedication," said Mr McGarry.

Irish Independent

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