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Landmark day as Supreme Court sits in NUI Galway
Supreme Court sitting in NUI Galway in March 2019 Pic: Warner Corporate Photography

04 Mar 2019 / courts Print

‘This is a court for all of Ireland,’ says Chief Justice as Supreme Court goes west

In a historic first, the Irish Supreme Court sat in the Aula Maxima in NUI Galway this morning, the first time it has convened outside a courthouse since the reconstruction of the Four Courts in 1932.

The visit to the West marks only the third time that the Supreme Court has sat outside Dublin, it will deliver one of two judgments live on TV during a three-day visit.

Common law jurisdiction

At a dinner last night at the Ardilaun Hotel in the city, Chief Justice Frank Clarke spoke about Ireland’s future as the main common law jurisdiction, post-Brexit.

He told those attending that he had met with his German Supreme Court counterparts recently and found that they had many Western, democratic principles in common, notwithstanding their differing common law and civil law legal systems.

It was a sell-out evening, with almost 200 in attendance, drawn from the solicitors’ profession, the Bar, and university academics and their guests.

The move comes as part of a drive by the court to bring more visibility to the country’s highest court, along with transparency regarding its work and an understanding of its role.

What makes visits outside the capital a success is the model adopted, where the court not just hears cases, but engages fully with local practitioners and with the universities, the Chief Justice told the packed Aula Maxima in Galway this morning.

“This practice will be continued here in Galway,” he said.

“I want to pay particular tribute to the School of Law in NUI Galway for the varied and intensive programme which has been put together for tomorrow.

“We are very much looking forward to the engagement with the staff and students, notwithstanding the fact that we may do so with a slight hint of trepidation,” he quipped.

The principal role of the Supreme Court must always be to hear and decide the cases that come before the court, he said.

“Since the establishment of the Court of Appeal, this has meant the court must first decide which cases meet the constitutional threshold to come before the court in the first place, and then hear and determine those cases which are found to meet the criteria,” he continued.

Dynamic year

“That means now that almost all of the cases which the court hears will have been determined to be of general public importance,” he said.

“It is particularly important in that context … that the court marks that fact by sitting as often as it can outside Dublin, to show that this is not just a court for Dublin, but a court for all of Ireland.”

Chief Justice Clarke said he hoped to continue with visits to locations outside Dublin at least once a year.

He added that the presence of cameras in the Supreme Court, frequently filming and broadcasting the judgments of the court, was another indication of the attempts to allow the public wider access to the court as it goes about its work.

He confirmed that discussions were underway to allow the filming and broadcasting of legal argument, as well.

The Chief Justice and the other visiting judges of the Supreme Court were welcomed to the university at 9.30am today by NUI Galway staff and academics. 

Mr Justice Clarke then launched the first ever Supreme Court annual report, saying he hoped that, through it, “the general public can gain a greater understanding of what it is that the Supreme Court actually does, and its role in upholding the Constitution and the law.”

He continued: “The report gives a detailed picture of the way that the court and its members work, both within and outside the courtroom, and both nationally and abroad.”

He said that the latter, international role of the court was about to grow significantly in importance, in the context of Brexit.

“I very much hope that this new initiative … will prove valuable … to anyone who wants to know about what we do and how we do it,” he continued.

As a token of gratitude to all in NUI Galway, a signed first copy of the report was presented to the School of Law.

Brendan Ryan, Chief Executive of the Courts Service, said that his organisation was delighted to facilitate and support the Supreme Court in sitting outside Dublin for the third time.

These visits would enable the court to do some work with third-level institutions in whatever locations they visit outside the capital.

Brendan O’Connor (President of the Galway Solicitors’ Bar Association) said it was of great benefit to the entire profession in the West to see, first-hand, the legal wheels in motion, and the practices and procedures of the highest judicial authority in Ireland.

Annual report

“This gives practitioners first-hand experience of the highest court in the land,” he said.

“It’s fantastic to witness the enthusiasm of the Chief Justice and the others judges in making the effort to come down to Galway and to sit on a university campus, which is very inspiring for students.”

The hearing was packed to capacity, he said, with law students benefiting significantly from the visit, with two days of hearings and frontline engagement with the judges tomorrow.

The annual report shows a 10% increase in new appeals to the court in 2018, coming on top of an 18% jump in 2017.

The innovation of e-filing of both appeals and submissions has now effectively cleared the backlog of cases, with Supreme Court waiting times now slashed from five years to just one.

The Supreme Court’s judges have stepped up international liaison efforts, and are now involved in ten international networks as Brexit approaches, the report reveals.

Chief Justice Clarke said that 2018 was a demanding and dynamic year, with the Supreme Court determining 157 applications for leave to appeal, disposing of 128 appeals, and delivering 91 reserved judgments. 

Broadcast live

Of the appeals disposed of, 67 were appeals brought under the reformed jurisdiction of the court, which has operated since the establishment of the Court of Appeal. The court has now effectively disposed of its backlog of legacy cases. 

In 2018, in order to assist the Court of Appeal, the court also disposed of 42 cases that were returned to the Supreme Court, having previously been sent to the Court of Appeal for determination.

The Chief Justice continued: “It is important to stress that the work of the Supreme Court has evolved significantly in recent years.

“The establishment of the Court of Appeal in 2014 has changed the structure of the caseload of the court. 

“Each member of the court is also engaged in extra-judicial work, outside of hearing appeals and delivering judgments.

“The Supreme Court of Ireland is a member of no less than ten European and international networks, and participation in each of these networks requires extensive judicial resources,” he said.

This international work is increasing as Ireland becomes the major common law country in the EU, post-Brexit.

In another first, the annual report has published summaries and notes of the major judgments it gave throughout the year, creating a ready reference point for the court’s jurisprudence.

At 11 am today, the court consisting of the Chief Justice Frank Clarke, the President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham, Mr Justice John MacMenamin, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne and Mr Justice Peter Charleton considered  167/17 Promontoria (Oyster) Designated Activity Company v Hannon.

This evening, Chief Justice Frank Clarke will speak on the common law, post-Brexit, at a CPD event for local practitioners, organised by the Galway Solicitors’ Bar Association and NUI Galway School of Law, at the Ardilaun Hotel at 6pm.

Tomorrow in Galway, the court will issue its judgment in the O'Brien v Clerk of Dáil Éireann & ors appeal. This will be broadcast live on RTÉ News Now.

Later tomorrow, the court is ‘in lodge’, delivering seminars to NUI Galway law students on a variety of topics, including the separation of powers and consent in sexual offences.

On Wednesday, the appeal in Fitzpatrick & anor v An Bord Pleanála & ors [Apple data-centre planning case] will be heard in Galway.


Dr Charles O’Mahony (Head of the School of Law, NUI Galway) said this morning that he was greatly honoured to welcome the Supreme Court for these historic court sittings.

“I would like to thank the Chief Justice and judges of the Supreme Court for giving their time so generously by participating in seminars with our students. The Supreme Court is to be commended for its initiatives to engage with the broader community, and with our law students.

“This engagement demystifies the role of the court, promotes the rule of law, and the concept of open justice.

“The Supreme Court sittings on campus are a timely and fitting way to celebrate 170 years of teaching law and of legal scholarship here at NUI Galway,” he concluded.


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