Lord Chief Justice of Ireland

The Court of King's Bench (or Court of Queen's Bench during the reign of a Queen) was one of the senior courts of common law in Ireland. It was a mirror of the Court of King's Bench in England. The Lord Chief Justice was the most senior judge in the court, and the second most senior Irish judge under English rule and later when Ireland became part of the United Kingdom. Additionally, for a brief period between 1922 and 1924, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland was the most senior judge in the Irish Free State.

History of the position

The office was created during the Lordship of Ireland (1171–1536) and continued in existence under the Kingdom of Ireland (1536–1800) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Prior to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Ireland) 1877, the Lord Chief Justice presided over the Court of King's/Queen's Bench, and as such ranked foremost amongst the judges sitting at common law. After 1877, the Lord Chief Justice assumed the presidency of the Queen's Bench Division of the new High Court of Justice, which sat permanently in the Four Courts in Dublin.

Thomas Lefroy, later Lord Chief Justice of Ireland (LCJ 1852–1866), was used by Jane Austen as the model for her Pride and Prejudice character Mr. Darcy. Lefroy and Austen had had a romance in their youths. Other prominent Lord Chief Justices of Ireland include Lord Whiteside (LCJ 1866–1876), who as a Queen's Counsel had defended Irish nationalist leader Daniel O'Connell in court, Gerald FitzGerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond, Hugh de Lacy, Risteárd de Tiúit, John Doherty, Thomas Marlay, James Ley, Peter O'Brien, and James Henry Mussen Campbell, 1st Baron Glenavy (LCJ 1916–1918, later Chairman of Seanad Éireann and grandfather of the satirist Patrick Campbell). One Lord Chief Justice, Lord Kilwarden, was killed by a crowd during Robert Emmet's 1803 rebellion.

Abolition of the position

The abolition of the position of Lord Chief Justice of Ireland was originally envisaged in a draft of the Government of Ireland Bill 1920. The Bill originally proposed that the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland would become the Lord Chief Justice of Southern Ireland. However, the then incumbent, The Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Molony, 1st Bt., vigorously lobbied for the right to continue to hold the title even after the Bill was passed. Ultimately, his arguments were at least in part accepted: The Act, in its transitional provisions, provided that while he would in effect be the first Lord Chief Justice of Southern Ireland, his title remained that of Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, although this was a transitional provision and was not a right to be enjoyed by his successors.[1]

Subsequently, the highest ranking judicial posting in Ireland, that of Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was abolished in December 1922.[2] This left the office of the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland as the most senior judge in the Irish Free State but not for very long. The Constitution of the Irish Free State adopted in December 1922 clearly envisaged the early establishment of new courts for the nascent state and the abolition of the position of the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.[3] However, this only took place when the Courts of Justice Act 1924 was finally adopted. Under that Act, the position of the Chief Justice of the Irish Free State superseded the position of Lord Chief Justice of Ireland as the highest judicial office in the Irish Free State.[4]

List of holders

DateNameNotesLeft Office
1324-7Nicholas Fastolf, knight(1st term)
1327-8Henry de HamburyFrom Hanbury, Worcestershire
1328-30Nicholas Fastolf, knight(2nd term)
1330-1Elias de Asshebournham, knight(1st term)
1331-2Peter Tilliol, knight
1332-3Thomas LouthFrom Louth, Lincolnshire (1st term)
1333-4Robert de Scardeburgh("but probably did not act")
1334-7Thomas Louth(2nd term)
1337Elias de Asshebournham, knight(2nd term)
1337Thomas Louth(3rd term)
1337-8Elias de Asshebournham, knight(3rd term)
1338Thomas Louth(4th term)
1338-41Elias de Asshebournham(4th term)
1341-4Thomas de DentPatronymic derived from Dent, Yorkshire
1344-5Robert de ScardeburghFrom Scarborough, North Yorkshire (only substantive term)
1345-6John le Hunt
1346Henry de Motlowe, knightPossibly connected to Mobberley or Motburlege, Chesire
1346-51John de RednesseFrom Reedness, Yorkshire (1st term)
1351-4Godfrey de Foljambe, knight
1354-6John de Rednesse(2nd term)
1356Richard de WirkeleyPrior of the Order of Hospitallers in Ireland - possibly connected to Wakefield, Yorkshire
1356-9John de Rednesse(3rd term)
1359William le Petit
1359-61John de Rednesse(4th term)
1361-3William de Notton, knightFrom Notton, Yorkshire
1363-5Richard White
1365-7Thomas de la Dale, knight
1367-70John Keppock, or Keppok(1st term)
1370-2William de Skipwith, knightFamily originally from Skipwith, Yorkshire
1372–82John Keppock, or Keppok(2nd term)
1382Sir Thomas Mortimer, knightFamily originally from Mortemer, Seine-Maritime, Normandy
1384John de Sotheron
1385John Penros
1386Edmund de ClayFrom the common pleas[5][6]
1388, 10 JulyRichard Plunkett
1388, 23 SeptemberPeter Rowe(1st term)
1395William HankfordFrom Hankford in the parish of Bulkworthy, Devon
1396William Tynbegh, clerkFamily originally from Tenby, Pembrokeshire
1397Peter Rowe(2nd term)
1397Stephen de Bray(1st term) From the common pleas - family possibly from Bray, County Wicklow
1404Richard Rede
1406Stephen de Bray(2nd term)
1426Henry Fortescue
1429Stephen de Bray(3rd term)
1435Christopher Bernevall, or Barnewall2nd justice
1437William Boys
1437Christopher Bernevall, or Barnewall(2nd term)
1446Richard Bye
1447Robert Plunket
1447Sir James Alleyn
1457Nicholas Barnewall(1st term)
1461Sir Thomas Fitz-Christopher Plunket(1st term)
1461Nicholas Barnewall(2nd term)
1463 (or before)Sir Thomas Fitz-Christopher Plunket(2nd term)
1468John Chevir
1474Philip Bermingham(d 1490, buried St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin)
1490Thomas Cusacke
1494Thomas Bowring
1496John TopcliffeFrom the Exchequer
1513Patrick Bermingham
1521Patrick BerminghamBy a new patent
1533Sir Bartholomew Dillon, knight2nd justice, from the ExchequerDied same year[7]
1534Patrick FinglasFrom the Exchequer
1535Sir Gerald AylmerFrom the Exchequer[8]
1559John Plunket
1562John PlunketBy a new patent
1583James Dowdall
1586Robert GardinerSerjeant-at-law in England
1604Sir James LeyAfterwards Earl of Marlborough: resigned
1608Sir Humphrey Winch, knightChief Baron; from the ExchequerMade a Justice of the Common Pleas of England
1612Sir John Denham, knightChief Baron, from the Exchequer
1617Sir William Jones, knightSerjeant-at-law
1620Sir George Shurley, or Shirley, knightSerjeant-at-law (d.1647)[9]
1655Richard PepysUnder the Protectorate – died 2 January 1659
1659John Santhey19 Jan pro tem on Pepys' death[10]
1659William BasillAttorney general; 24 Jan
1660Sir James Barry, knightAfterwards Lord Santry
1673Sir John Povey, knightFrom the Exchequer
1679Sir Robert Booth, knightDied the next year
1680Sir William Davys, knightPrime serjeant
1687Thomas NugentRemoved
1690Sir Richard Reynell, 1st BaronetDismissed
1695Sir Richard PyneChief Justice of the Common Pleas
1709Alan BrodrickRemoved
1711Sir Richard Cox, knight and baronetRemoved
1714William WhitshedRemoved to the Common Pleas
1727John RogersonPreviously attorney generalDied in office 1741
1741Thomas MarlayPreviously Chief Baron of the ExchequerRetired 1751
1751St George CaulfeildPreviously attorney generalRetired 1760
1760Warden FloodPreviously attorney generalDied in office 1764
1764John Gore, later Lord AnnalyPreviously solicitor general; 24 AugDied in office 1784
1784John ScottPreviously Prime serjeant; Created Lord Earlsfort, afterwards Viscount and Earl of Clonmell; 29 AprDied in office 1798
1798Arthur Wolfe, Lord KilwardenPreviously attorney-general; 13 JuneMurdered 23 July 1803
1803William DownesPreviously a judge of the Court of King's Bench; afterward 1st Baron Downes; 12 SepRetired 1822
1822Charles Kendal BushePreviously solicitor general from 1805; 14 FebRetired 1841
1841Edward PennefatherPreviously solicitor general; 10 NovRetired 1846
1846Francis BlackburnePreviously Master of the Rolls; 21 JanBecame Lord Chancellor 1852
1852Thomas Langlois LefroyPreviously a Baron of the ExchequerRetired 1866
1866James WhitesideFormer attorney-generalDied in office 1876
1877George Augustus Chichester MayPreviously attorney-generalRetired 1887
1887Michael MorrisPreviously Chief Justice of the Common PleasBecame Lord of Appeal in Ordinary 1889
1889Peter O'BrienPreviously attorney-generalRetired 1913
1913Richard Robert CherryPreviously a Lord Justice of AppealRetired 1916
1916James Henry Mussen CampbellPreviously attorney-generalBecame Lord Chancellor 1918
1918Thomas MolonyPreviously a Lord Justice of AppealPosition abolished


  • List from Liber Munerum Publicorum Hiberniae, by Rowley Lascelles, copied in Haydn's Book of Dignities
  • Names from 1852 onwards from The Oxford Companion to Law, ed David M. Walker, 1980
  • Francis Elrington Ball The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 2 Vols (John Murray London 1926)


  1. For a thorough account, see: W.N. Osborough, Studies in Irish Legal History, Four Courts Press 1999, pp 318–326.
  2. Schedule II, Part II, Irish Free State Consequential Provisions Act 1922, a United Kingdom statute.
  3. Article 75, Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) Act 1922.
  4. Section 5, Courts of Justice Act 1924.
  5. For holders of the office of Lord Chief Justice, the period 1383–86 seems to have been one of great confusion, and it is not clear whether all those nominated actually took up the position – see Ball The Judges in Ireland .
  6. Haydn's Book of Dignities says that "John de Shriggeley, from the Exchequer" served at this point, but Elrington Ball's 'Judges in Ireland', P157 does not mention him
  7. Date from Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 John Murray London 1926, P191 – although Haydn's Book of Dignities says that he took office in 1532
  8. Date from Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 John Murray London 1926, P156 – although Haydn's Book of Dignities says that he took office in 1546
  9. date from Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 (London 1926), p.328 – although Haydn's Book of Dignities says that he took office in 1619
  10. Robert Dunlop, 'Ireland under the Commonwealth' Vol 2, P 470n

Further reading

  • Daire Hogan, R.R. Cherry, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, 1914–16
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