Northern Ireland news

Call for applications for new Lord Chief Justice

Sir Declan Morgan, who is retiring after more than a decade as Northern Ireland's most senior judge. Picture by Hugh Russell

NORTHERN Ireland's new Lord Chief Justice is expected to be in post in September.

Applications opened yesterday ahead of the departure of Sir Declan Morgan, who is retiring after more than a decade as Northern Ireland's most senior judge.

The Office of the Lord Chief Justice has officially announced the launch of the recruitment process, first reported in the Irish News earlier this month.

"The Prime Minister has asked the current Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan, to convene a selection panel which will make a recommendation to him of a suitable candidate," a spokeswoman said.

"It is anticipated that the new appointment will take up the post on September 6 2021."

A "recommendation" is made after consultation with the outgoing post-holder and the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission.

The Interpretation Act 1978 allows Lord Chief Justice in the process to also encompass Lady Chief Justice, with the prospect of the first female appointee the strongest it has been in the post's 99-year history.

In 2015, Sir Declan made history when he swore in Denise McBride and Siobhan Keegan as the first female High Court judges in the north. Earlier this year Karen Quinlivan was also appointed as a temporary High Court judge.

The north was the last jurisdiction in Ireland and Britain to have a woman promoted to the High Court.

Within legal circles Ms Keegan is seen as a strong contender to succeed Sir Declan - should she put her name forward.

Other names suggested include senior criminal judge Mr Justice Adrian Colton and Mr Justice Mark Horner.

Sir Declan, who was appointed in 2009, is understood to have declined the opportunity to take the position on the UK Supreme Court left vacant by the retirement of his predecessor Lord Kerr last year.

He was instead a member of the selection commission which appointed Northern Ireland Appeal Court Judge Lord Ben Stephens.

His successor will have to grapple with the ongoing issue of Troubles legacy cases as well as outstanding Crown Court cases, which have increased from 352 to 521 since the first lockdown.

Lord chief justices are typically drawn from members of the judiciary with High Court experience and the vacancy comes at a time of crisis there.

A report last year revealed the High Court is an unpopular career path, with the volume of work much greater than 20 years ago and "the compensations of the status... including the knighthood or damehood" no longer as desirable.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news