Retired chief justice Frank Clarke to resume work as a barrister

Clarke will be barred from appearing before all Irish courts under Bar Council rules

Retired chief justice Frank Clarke. Photograph: Alan Betson

Retired chief justice Frank Clarke. Photograph: Alan Betson


Recently retired chief justice Frank Clarke is to resume work as a barrister, becoming one of the few senior judges to return to practice after retirement.

However, under Bar Council ethics rules, Mr Clarke will not be allowed practise in a court of equal or lesser jurisdiction than the one he sat on.

As he was the head of the Supreme Court and the most senior member of the judiciary in the country, Mr Clarke will not be able to appear before any Irish court while a member of the Law Library.

He will, however, be permitted to argue cases before the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

It is understood Mr Clarke (70), who stepped down as chief justice in October, intends to focus on arbitration and mediation work rather than active court appearances.

Mr Clarke was permitted to rejoin the bar following a vote by the Library Committee of the Bar Council which controls admissions to the Law Library. Mr Clarke now reverts to the title of senior counsel which he attained in 1985.

A Bar Council spokesman said Mr Clarke joined the Law Library “just like anyone else” and that it was “delighted” to have him.


“Along with our 2,200 other members, membership of the Law Library is regulated by our code of conduct and rules of membership,” he said.

“It is a matter of policy for the Bar of Ireland not to comment on the individual practice of a particular member.”

It is rare for a senior judge to return to practice on retirement from the bench, and in the case of retired chief justices, almost unheard of.

One recent example was Barry White, who, on retiring from the High Court bench, sought to resume work as a criminal defence barrister. The matter was the subject of a 2016 High Court case after the Minister for Justice refused to admit Mr White to the panel for criminal defence work, citing Bar Council rules.

Mr White said he needed to return to work because his €78,000 annual pension was not adequate for his family’s needs. He won his case and was able to resume work as a barrister across all jurisdictions, but not as a member of the Law Library.

The deciding judge, Mr Justice Max Barrett, said being a judge was undoubtedly a responsible job and a privilege but was ultimately “just a job”. The notion it was a “sacred office” dedicated to some religious purpose was “fanciful”, he said.