Susan Denham

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Susan Denham
Susan Denham 2014.jpg
11th Chief Justice of Ireland
In office
25 July 2011 – 28 July 2017
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed byMary McAleese
Preceded byJohn L. Murray
Succeeded byFrank Clarke
Judge of the Supreme Court
In office
1 May 1992 – 28 July 2017
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed byMary Robinson
Judge of the High Court
In office
11 July 1991 – 1 May 1992
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed byMary Robinson
Personal details
Susan Mary Gageby

(1945-05-07) 7 May 1945 (age 73)
Sandymount, Dublin, Ireland
Political partyLabour Party
Spouse(s)Brian Denham (m. 1992)
EducationAlexandra College
Alma mater

Susan Mary Denham, SC (née Gageby; born 7 May 1945[1]) is a retired Irish judge who served as Chief Justice of Ireland from 2011 to 2017 and the first woman to hold the position. She served as a Judge of the Supreme Court from 1992 to 2017, and was the longest-serving member of the court on her retirement. She also served as a Judge of the High Court from 1991 to 1992.[2][3]

Early and personal life[edit]

Susan Gageby was born in Dublin in 1945 and educated at Alexandra College, Dublin; Trinity College, Dublin; the King's Inns; and the Law School of Columbia University, New York City (LL.M. 1972).[4][5] She is the daughter of the former editor of The Irish Times, Douglas Gageby; and the sister of leading criminal barrister Patrick Gageby. She is married to paediatrician Dr Brian Denham and they have four children. From 1996 to 2010, Denham was a Pro-Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin. She is a member of the Church of Ireland. Her maternal grandfather Seán Lester served as the third and final Secretary-General of the League of Nations from 1940 to 1946.

Legal career[edit]

She was called to the bar in 1971 and became a Senior Counsel in 1987. She worked on the Midland circuit until 1979, following which she was based in Dublin. She was involved in a number of leading cases while a junior barrister and a Senior Counsel particularly in the area of judicial review. She became a High Court judge in 1991. In 1992, she was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court.[6]

From 1995 to 1998, she chaired the Working Group on a Courts Commission, which was responsible for a significant reform of the organisation of the courts since the foundation of the state.[3] It led to the establishment of the Courts Service.[5] She was on the Interim Board of the Court Service and served on the Board of the Court Service from its inception, and chaired the board from 2001–04.[5]

From 2006, she chaired the Working Group on a Court of Appeal. The report of the group was published by the government in August 2009. It recommended the establishment of a general Court of Appeal. This was ultimately established in 2014, after a referendum in 2013.[5]

Denham was part of the Irish delegation which, with the Netherlands and Belgium, established the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) and she continues an involvement in this Network. From 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2016, she was President of the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union which is an association of Supreme Court Presidents and Chief Justices of EU Member States.[7]

She wrote the judgment in McD v. L (2009), upholding the parental rights of a sperm donor.

On 4 July 2011, she was nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to become Chief Justice of Ireland, she was appointed as Chief Justice by President Michael D. Higgins on 25 July 2011. She was the first woman appointed to the office and as a member of the Church of Ireland, she was the first non-Catholic to hold the position. She was also the first graduate of Trinity College, Dublin to have been appointed; Chief Justices have largely been graduates of University College Dublin.[8] She retired from the position in July 2017, and was succeeded by Judge Frank Clarke.


  1. ^ Curley, Helen, ed. (2000). Local Ireland Almanac and Yearbook of Facts 2000. Local Ireland. p. 297. ISBN 0953653706.
  2. ^ "Susan Denham to become Ireland's first female Chief Justice". 19 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b Carr, Aoife (19 July 2011). "New Chief Justice appointed". The Irish Times.
  4. ^ "Susan Denham". LLM Uniiks. 21 July 2011. Retrieved 19 August 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d "Current Judges of the Supreme Court". The Supreme Court of Ireland. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  6. ^ Supreme Court of Ireland. "Chief Justice Susan Gageby Denham". Supreme Court of Ireland. Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 August 2017. Retrieved 6 August 2017.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Susan Denham nominated for top Irish legal post". BBC News. 20 July 2011.
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Murray
Chief Justice of Ireland
Succeeded by
Frank Clarke