Government nominates new president of High Court

Wed, Oct 7, 2009, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT has nominated Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, currently a member of the Supreme Court, as president of the High Court, The Irish Timeshas learned. The president of the High Court is an ex-officio member of the Supreme Court, so his appointment will create a vacancy on this court.

Mr Justice Kearns was born in Dublin in 1946. He was educated at St Mary’s College in Rathmines, UCD and the King’s Inns.

He was called to the bar in 1968 and was made a senior counsel in 1982. He was called to the English bar in 1980. He was appointed a judge of the High Court in 1998 and to the Supreme Court in November 2004. In the High Court Mr Justice Kearns was designated as the judge with responsibility for dealing with competition law matters.

He is a co-founder of the Association of European Competition Law Judges. This was established in 2000 to ensure judicial co-operation between EU national courts in implementing competition law and was instrumental in drafting new rules for competition proceedings in Ireland.

In 2008 he was also elected vice-president of the Association of European Competition Law Judges.

While in the High Court he also dealt with cases covering defamation, judicial review and personal injuries.

In 2001 he sat as an alternate judge in the European Court of Human Rights. He was renominated by the Government as an alternate judge to the European Court of Human Rights in 2007 and 2008.

He was renominated to the court for its deliberations on a number of cases related to abortion which will be heard and determined later in 2009.

In 2004 he chaired the Referendum Commission in the referendum on citizenship. In 2005 he was appointed to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. He was made a bencher of Middle Temple in London in 2006.

In 2008/9 he chaired the Family Law Reporting Committee tasked with overseeing the Courts Service Family Law Reporting Project.

Supreme Court

With the nomination of Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns as president of the High Court, the Government now needs to nominate an additional judge to the Supreme Court.

A likely front-runner for that position is Mr Justice Frank Clarke, whose deft chairmanship of the Referendum Commission attracted widespread praise.

His Fine Gael background is unlikely to be an obstacle to his appointment in current circumstances.

His experience in commercial law will strengthen that side of the Supreme Court in the coming period, as more and more challenging cases are expected to come to this court arising out of the recession and the setting up of Nama.

However, it is also possible that the Government may nominate Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill of the High Court or it may go outside the ranks of the judiciary to appoint a leading senior counsel, as it did when Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman was appointed directly to the Supreme Court bench.