Chief Justice of Connacht
The Chief Justice of Connacht was the senior judge who assisted the Lord President of Connaught in judicial matters. Despite the Chief Justice's title, full judicial powers were vested in the Lord President himself when the office was established in 1569. Ralph Rokeby, the first Chief Justice, found his principal duty, the introduction of the common law into Connacht, to be a thankless task, writing gloomily to the Government in London that the people of the province "are not willing to embrace justice".
A second royal commission from King James I in 1604 vested in the Lord President very wide powers to hear civil cases and to impose martial law and pursue the King's enemies with "fire and sword" (Ralph Rokeby had urged the granting of such powers from the beginning of the office's existence, as the only way to bring order and good government to the province). The extent of these powers gave rise to clashes with the longer-established courts and in 1622 instructions were issued to the Chief Justice of Connacht not to "intermeddle" with cases which were properly within the jurisdiction of another court.
On the face of it the office of Chief Justice was an onerous one, as shown by the fact that (for at least part of the Court's history) he had two associate justices to assist him, whereas the Chief Justice of Munster seems to have had only one. On the other hand, Geoffrey Osbaldeston's appointment as Chief Justice in 1606 was generally seen as a demotion on the grounds of his incompetence, suggesting that the office was not then seen as one of great importance. However a Chief Justice who performed well could expect a place on the High Court Bench as a reward, and Donnellan and Jones were rewarded in this way. While it was generally understood that the Chief Justice of Munster should not hold any other office, the same rule apparently did not hold good in Connacht: Thomas Dillon combined the office with a seat on the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland).
The office ended with the abolition of the provincial presidencies in 1672.
List of Chief Justices of Connacht 1569-1672
- 1569 Ralph Rokeby
- 1577 Thomas Dillon
- 1606 Henry Dillon
- 1607 Geoffrey Osbaldeston
- 1634 James Donnellan
- 1662 Oliver Jones
- 1670 Adam Cusack
Office abolished 1672
- Burke gives the name as William Spring, but Ball, the most reliable source for the pre-independence Irish judiciary, gives it as Adam Cusack, who had been second justice since 1661, and would have been the obvious choice to succeed Oliver Jones as Chief Justice.
- Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926
- Burke, Oliver Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit Hodges Figgis Dublin 1885
- Crawford, Jon G. A Star Chamber Court in Ireland - the Court of Castle Chamber 1571-1641 Four Courts Press Dublin 2005