NI: Tributes paid to Sir Declan Morgan as he retires as Lord Chief Justice
Northern Ireland’s legal profession has paid tribute to Sir Declan Morgan, who has retired as Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.
Rowan White, president of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, and Bernard Brady QC, chair of the Bar of Northern Ireland, have both marked Sir Declan’s retirement with statements that recognise his “immense contribution to the justice system in Northern Ireland”.
Sir Declan was called to the Bar in 1976, serving his pupillage under Patrick Markey. He took silk in 1993 and was appointed to the High Court in 2004 before succeeding the late Sir Brian Kerr as Chief Justice in 2009.
Both tributes from Mr White and Mr Brady QC commented on Sir Declan’s willingness and commitment to embrace greater openness and transparency in his role, and the effect that this has had in promoting a greater understanding of the administration of justice in Northern Ireland.
Mr Brady QC said: “He has been a tireless advocate in promoting the rule of law and also leaves a wealth of jurisprudence, including many complex cases involving convention rights.”
He also praised Sir Declan’s “formidable intellect” and said he was “keenly aware at all times that the role of the professional advocate has at its core the obligation of service to the lay client”.
He went on to add: “Sir Declan’s embodiment of the judicial oath has also seen him speak publicly about the difficulties of dealing with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland; interventions which have always been marked by a keen eye on the human cost of political deadlock and inaction.
“His dedication to public service and the administration of justice has clearly involved the most challenging of issues at times, not least his vital role in leading the response to Covid-19 over the last year and navigating the pathway to recovery.”
Mr White similarly commented on Sir Declan’s approach to the past of Northern Ireland, saying: “A particular aspect of Sir Declan’s leadership, which has been ground-breaking, has been his determination to bring a measure of closure to victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, through the work of the Coroners’ Courts in their conduct of legacy inquests.
“While finding a satisfactory way to address the legacy of our troubled past has proved almost impossible for our elected politicians, Sir Declan’s commitment to provide effective and independent judicial investigations of legacy cases has demonstrated the value of an impartial and independent judicial process as a means of accounting for the tragedies of the past.”
Thoughts were also given to the future as it was noted that Sir Declan’s retirement from the role has made way for a “ground-breaking first” in the appointment of his successor, Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan as the first Lady Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.