Chief Justice is socially liberal and racing enthusiast

The first of his family to enter third-level education, the socially liberal Frank Clarke is set to become the country’s next chief justice.

Judge Clarke was nominated by the Cabinet yesterday during its last meeting before the summer recess.

The Supreme Court judge, who is seen in legal circles as a progressive figure, has strong Fine Gael links, having joined the party after finishing school in Drimnagh Castle CBS.

Born in Walkinstown, Dublin, in 1951, he was the first member of his family to go to university — UCD — where he received a degree in maths and economics.

He has spoken about wider access to education and stressed the importance of a more diverse judiciary, encouraging people from all backgrounds to study the law at third level.

Judge Clarke has been involved in outreach activities of the Trinity College Access programme and its Pathways to Law project. He has supported the Future Voices Organisation, which supports secondary school students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Away from the legal world, Judge Clarke was a strong supporter of Fine Gael. As a young man he canvassed for Jim Mitchell in Dublin South West and went on to become a speechwriter for Garret FitzGerald.

Judge Clarke acted as election agent for the former Fine Gael minister George Birmingham, who has since become a judge on the Court of Appeal. He ran for the Seanad in the 1980s but was unsuccessful.

A horse-racing enthusiast, Judge Clarke has been chair of the board of Leopardstown Racecourse, a board member of Horse Racing Ireland, and previously acted as deputy senior steward of the Turf Club.

Judge Clarke’s name was brought before the Cabinet by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan after a list of around 15 candidates was whittled down to three and then one.

It is understood Fine Gael ministers and Independent members of the Government were satisfied with his nomination.

He will fill the position left vacant by Susan Denham when she retires next month.

Judge Clarke, who has been highly regarded and considered as an influential member of the Supreme Court, will turn 66 this year, meaning he can serve four years as chief justice.

Having completed his legal studies at King’s Inns, he was called to the Bar in 1973. He practised at the Bar until his appointment to the High Court in November 2004. Judge Clarke has served on the Supreme Court since 2012.

While a judge of the High Court, he chaired the Referendum Commission on the second Lisbon treaty. Its publicity campaign came in at €1m below budget, but was still regarded as having effectively delivered its mandate of significantly improving public understanding of what was involved.

He was elected honorary member of the Canadian Bar Association in 1994 and admitted as an honorary member of the Australian Bar Association in 2002.

The Irish Examiner has learnt that Judge Clarke and his family will be formally appointed by the President at Áras an Uachtaráin at 7pm tomorrow.


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