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President's Reception to mark centenary

On Tuesday 28 May, President Michael D. Higgins hosted a reception at Áras an Uachtaráin to mark the 100-year anniversary of Ireland's independent courts system.

The event was attended by the Taoiseach, Simon Harris TD, Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell, members of the Supreme Court, Presidents of all court jurisdictions and other members of the judiciary.  The Attorney General of Ireland, Rossa Fanning SC, and the Attorney General of Northern Ireland, Dame Brenda King, also attended. The Lady Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Dame Siobhán Keegan, attended with other senior members of the Northern Ireland judiciary. 

The President of the Court of Justice of the European Union, Koen Lenaerts, and the President of the European Court of Human Rights, Síofra O’Leary, were also hosted by the President, along with the Presidents and members of a number of Supreme Courts and Constitutional Courts from Europe, including Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovakia, Slovenia and Germany.

Attendees from other common law jurisdictions included the Rt Hon Lord Ben Stephens of the UK Supreme Court, the Rt Hon Lord Justice Nicholas Underhill of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales, the Lord President of Scotland, the Rt Hon Lord Carloway Colin Sutherland, the Hon Mr Justice Sanjiv Khanna of the Supreme Court of India and the Chief Justice of Tanzania, Prof Ibrahim Hamis Juma.

In his address, President Higgins remarked in relation to the Courts of Justice Act 1924: 

“Today we mark this important milestone in Ireland’s history. The Act is one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in the Free State, establishing as it did the basic structure of our courts system, which has endured for a century, with only the addition the Court of Appeal in 2014 and the Special Criminal Court, the first of which was established in 1972 and the second in operation since 2016.”

Commenting on the 1937 Constitution of Ireland the President observed:

“In the past, Constitutions were sought to provide certainty and, when necessary, cast a cold judgement on people’s lives. Today, it recognises both the uncertainty and the possibilities of the changes that may be experienced in all our lives and has evolved to acknowledge the importance of respecting personal freedoms instead of limiting them”.

The President posed the question of whether “there is any aspect of our republic more essential to its effectiveness and continuity than the independence of our nation’s courts and their ability to uphold the rule of law?”  He thanked those present for their “vital role…in ensuring that the courts of justice of our country uphold the rights of our citizens, that our democracy functions at the highest level and that our courts maintain their integrity and legitimacy in order to ensure that they protect the rights of all citizens”.

In response, the Chief Justice thanked President Higgins for hosting the reception, and presented the President with the first copy of a new edition of the book, ‘The Supreme Court of Ireland: A History’. Originally edited by Rónán Kennedy in 2003, this edition has been updated by Dr. Rebecca Murphy (Office of the Chief Justice), Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan (judge of the Supreme Court), and Bláthna Ruane SC, with the assistance of Alan Baker, Laura Hogan, and Oisin Mag Fhogartaigh.

The President's speech can be read in full here.