Mrs Justice Keegan named as Lady Chief Justice
Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan has been appointed as Lady Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, becoming the first woman ever to hold the highest judicial position in Northern Ireland.
She will be sworn in as successor to the incumbent Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, at the start of September 2021 – less than six years after making history as one of the first two women to be appointed to the High Court.
Rowan White, president of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, said it was “encouraging to see a female become the head of the judiciary”, while Bernard Brady QC, chair of the Bar Council, said it was “a truly historic and well-deserved appointment”.
Justice Minister Naomi Long said in a tweet that Mrs Justice Keegan would “bring a wealth of wisdom and insight to her new role”.
A graduate of Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), Mrs Justice Keegan practised as a barrister prior to her appointment to the bench. She was called to the Bar in 1994 and become a QC in 2006 at the age of 35.
During her career at the Bar, she served as vice-chair of The Bar of Northern Ireland, chair of the Young Bar, chair of the Family Bar Association, chair of the Bar’s charity committee and was a long-standing member of the Bar’s professional conduct committee.
She was appointed as judge-in-residence at QUB in November 2015 and remains in this post. She was also appointed as a member of the Judicial Studies Board (JSB) in April 2016 and remains a current member of the board.
She was assigned as the senior family judge in April 2020 and subsequently appointed as chair of the shadow Family Justice Board.
Mrs Justice Keegan was appointed as a coroner in July 2017 and was presiding coroner for Northern Ireland from September 2017 to September 2020, overseeing, among other things, the beginning of the first tranche of legacy inquests under the Lord Chief Justice’s five-year plan.
Welcoming her appointment on behalf of the Law Society, Mr White said: “The Law Society is delighted that Mrs Justice Keegan is to become the first female Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.
“As women now make up at least half of the legal profession in Northern Ireland it is encouraging to see a female become the head of the judiciary. The Law Society looks forward to working with Chief Justice Keegan in her new role.”
On behalf of the Bar Council, Mr Brady said: “I am delighted that Mrs Justice Keegan will take on this most important role as the head of the judiciary in Northern Ireland. It is a truly historic and well-deserved appointment as Mrs Justice Keegan will become the first female to take on this vital leadership post.
“Having worked alongside Mrs Justice Keegan over many years on the Bar Council, I have no doubt that her vast experience will enable her to administer the office with great distinction.
“This appointment will hopefully help to inspire other female members of the profession and the Bar Council is committed in various ways to helping others to follow the path she has successfully charted.”