Frank Clarke (judge)

George Bernard Francis "Frank" Clarke[1] (born 10 October 1951) is an Irish judge who has been the Chief Justice of Ireland since July 2017, having been appointed by President Michael D. Higgins. He has served as a Judge of the Supreme Court since February 2012. He previously served as a Judge of the High Court from 2004 to 2012.[2]

Frank Clarke
12th Chief Justice of Ireland
Assumed office
28 July 2017
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed byMichael D. Higgins
Preceded bySusan Denham
Judge of the Supreme Court
Assumed office
9 February 2012
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed byMichael D. Higgins
Judge of the High Court
In office
23 November 2004  7 February 2012
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed byMary McAleese
Personal details
George Bernard Francis Clarke

(1951-10-10) 10 October 1951
Walkinstown, Dublin, Ireland
Spouse(s)Jacqueline Hayden (m. 1977)
EducationDrimnagh Castle
Alma mater
WebsiteOfficial website

Early life and education

Clarke was born on 10 October 1951 in Walkinstown, Dublin.[3] He is the son of a customs officer who died when he was aged eleven; his mother was a secretary[1] He was educated at Drimnagh Castle Secondary School, a Christian Brothers secondary school in Dublin.[3] He studied Economics and Maths at undergraduate level in University College Dublin, while he concurrently studied to become a barrister at King's Inns.[1] He was the first of his family to attend third level education.[4] While in UCD, he lost an election to Adrian Hardiman to become auditor of the L&H.[5]

He joined Fine Gael after leaving school. He was a speechwriter for Garret FitzGerald and election agent for George Birmingham and himself ran for Seanad Éireann.[6] He campaigned against the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland in 1983.[1]

He was called to the Bar in 1973 and to the Inner Bar in 1985.[7] He had a practice in commercial, constitutional and family law. Two years after commencing practice he appeared as junior counsel for the applicant in State (Healy) v Donoghue[8] before the Supreme Court, which established a constitutional right to legal aid in criminal cases.[1] He appeared for the plaintiff with Michael McDowell and Gerard Hogan in Cox v Ireland in 1990 where the Supreme Court first introduced proportionality into Irish constitutional law and discovered the right to earn a livelihood.[9] He represented Seán Ardagh and the Oireachtas Subcommittee formed after the death of John Carthy in a constitutional case which limited the powers of investigation of the Oireachtas,[10] which led to the unsuccessful Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution.[11]

Clarke was twice appointed by the Supreme Court for the purpose of Article 26 references.[12] He was appointed by the Supreme Court to appear to argue on behalf of the rights of the mother in In re Article 26 and the Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill 1995.[13]

He was external counsel to the Laffoy inquiry on child abuse, the Ryan Inquiry, and represented the Flood Tribunal in its case against Liam Lawlor.[14] He was a legal advisor to an inquiry into Deposit interest retention tax conducted by the Public Accounts Committee, along with future judicial colleagues Paul Gilligan and Mary Irvine.[15]

He was Chairman of the Bar Council from 1993 to 1995.[5] Between 1999 and 2004 he acted as chair of Council of King's Inns.[16] He was a Professor at the Kings's Inns between 1978 and 1985 and was appointed an Adjunct Professor at University College Cork in 2014.[12] He has also been an Adjunct Professor at Trinity College Dublin.[16]

Judicial career

He was appointed a Judge of the High Court in 2004. He was chairman of the Referendum Commission for the second Lisbon Treaty referendum in 2009.[17] As a High Court judge he gave a ruling, on the Leas Cross nursing home case against RTÉ, that the public interest justified the broadcasting of material that otherwise would have been protected by the right to privacy.[14] He frequently presided over the Commercial Court during his time at the High Court.[5] He was involved in the establishment of two High Court lists in Cork, Chancery and a Non-Jury List.[16]

Clarke was appointed to the Supreme Court on the 9 February 2012.[7]

Chief Justice

On 26 July 2017, it was announced that the Government of Ireland had agreed to nominate Judge Clarke for appointment by the President of Ireland as the next Chief Justice of Ireland, to succeed Susan Denham on the expiry of her term of office.[3][18] He was the sole name put forward to cabinet for consideration.[6] He applied for the position which included a 500 word application. Upon his appointment, he said it was not "unreasonable" to suggest that he was "socially progressive", while acknowledging his oath of judicial independence.[1]

Clarke identified his priorities upon appointment to be to increase access to justice and the legal profession, to improve support and training for judges, and to expand the use of technology in the courts.[19] He oversaw the first live broadcast of the Supreme Court on television in October 2017.[20] The Supreme Court held sittings in Limerick and NUI Galway in 2018 and 2019, the second and third times hearings took place outside of Dublin.[21][22]

He will retire after four years of his term, in 2021.[1]

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic of The Irish Times said on his appointment as Chief Justice, that Clarke has a "reputation for fair-mindedness and authority, and for judgments that were incisive and clear".[5] He also noted that he tended not to share an "absolute pro-defendant" attitude to criminal law matters with some Supreme Court colleagues, while also having the perception of more liberal positions than other judges on surrogacy and social issues.[5]

Personal life

He is married to Dr. Jacqueline Hayden since 1977.[14] They have a son who is a barrister and a daughter who is a carer.[19] He is interested in horse racing and rugby.[1]


  1. "Chief Justice Frank Clarke - Marian Finucane Show". RTÉ Radio. 30 September 2017. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  2. "President Higgins appoints Chief Justice". 28 July 2017.
  3. "Supreme Court judge Frank Clarke chosen as new chief justice". The Irish Times. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
  4. "STATEMENT BY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COUNCIL". Bar Council. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  5. Cormaic, Ruadhán Mac (26 July 2017). "Judge with radical edge may take Supreme Court in new direction". The Irish Times. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  6. Minihan, Mary; Cormaic, Ruadhán Mac. "Frank Clarke was only name to go to Cabinet". The Irish Times. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  7. "Appointments to the Supreme Court". 29 February 2012.
  8. State (Healy) v Donoghue, 1 I.R. 325 (Supreme Court of Ireland 1976).
  9. Cox v Ireland, 2 I.R. 503 (Supreme Court of Ireland 1992).
  10. Maguire v Ardagh, 1 I.R. 385 (Supreme Court of Ireland 2002).
  11. "Government publishes inquiries Bill". The Irish Times. 12 September 2011. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  12. "The Honorable Mr Justice Frank Clarke". University College Cork. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  13. Information (Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995, IESC 9 (Supreme Court of Ireland 1995).
  14. "Two new Supreme Court judges chosen". The Irish Times. 29 February 2012.
  15. O'Halloran, Marie (12 October 1999). "Mitchell winds up inquiry". Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  16. "2018 Supreme Court Annual Report" (PDF). Courts Service. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  17. "Referendum Commission". Citizens Information. 16 October 2009. Archived from the original on 17 October 2008. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  18. "Appointment of Chief Justice". 26 July 2017.
  19. "The Bar Review" (PDF) (22(6)). December 2017. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  20. Carolan, Mary (24 October 2017). "Supreme Court gets first-ever live TV broadcast". The Irish Times. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  21. "University of Limerick welcomes the Supreme Court". Irish Legal News. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  22. "Landmark day as Supreme Court sits in NUI Galway". Retrieved 9 December 2019.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Susan Denham
Chief Justice of Ireland
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