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MRS JUSTICE SIOBHAN KEEGAN APPOINTED NORTHERN IRELAND’S FIRST FEMALE CHIEF JUSTICE  3 panels showing Mrs Justice Keegan in front of bookcase - centre in colour, side panels in black and white

30 June 2021 (updated 02 August)

A Queen’s LLB graduate (1993), The Hon Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan, has been appointed as Northern Ireland’s Chief Justice, becoming the country’s most senior judge and the first woman to hold the position.

She will succeed Sir Declan Morgan, who is standing down after 10 years as Lord Chief Justice.

In a previous landmark appointment in October 2015, Mrs Justice Keegan was one of the first two women appointed a High Court Judge in Northern Ireland, along with fellow Queen’s alumna Madam Justice McBride (LLB 1988). Mrs Justice Keegan will be sworn in as Lady Chief Justice at the beginning of September at a ceremony to be held in the Royal Courts of Justice, after the Queen approved her appointment.

Speaking to Queen's about her new role, Mrs Justice Keegan said: 

“I am very much looking forward to my appointment as Lady Chief Justice on 2 September 2021. Covid has shown us that we need a flexible and reliable justice system that meets the needs and expectations of contemporary society. I believe in working collectively and collaboratively to facilitate the provision of access to justice and this will be my approach.

"I do not come from a legal background however I am glad I chose law as a career. I thoroughly enjoyed the study of Law at Queen’s University and the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. That led to my call to the Bar and progression to the Bench. I have been honoured to be Judge in Residence at Queen’s and during that time I have particularly valued my interaction with students in classes and at mock trials.

"I look forward to continuing my engagement with the University in my new role.”

Appointed as a Coroner in July 2017 and from September 2017 the Presiding Coroner in Northern Ireland, Mrs Justice Keegan, recently delivered the ruling at the long-running Inquest into the killing of 10 people in an Army operation in Ballymurphy in West Belfast, in August 1971.

A former pupil of St Clare’s Primary School and the Sacred Heart Grammar School in Newry, Mrs Justice Keegan graduated from Queen's in 1993 and, after further study, was called to the Bar of Northern Ireland the following year.

She achieved Queen's Counsel status in 2006 and has worked in family, criminal, judicial review, and other civil law.

Mrs Justice Keegan has been a Bar member on the Children Order Advisory Committee, a long-standing member of the Judicial Liaison Family Law Committee and was Chair of the Family Bar Association for two years from 2011-2013. She was appointed as Judge in Residence at Queen’s University Belfast in November 2015 and currently remains in this post.

Commenting on the latest ‘first’, Dr Marek Martyniszyn, Interim Head of the School of Law at Queen’s, said:

“For the first time, a woman is set to become the most senior judge here in Northern Ireland. Mrs Justice Keegan’s appointment as Lady Chief Justice is a huge personal credit to her and to the local profession. And it is an appointment that the School of Law at the University also takes great pride in.

"As Interim Head, I am very proud of the growing reputation the School has for producing excellent graduates. Already a powerful female role model for those contemplating a Law degree here at Queen’s, Mrs Justice Keegan will, I have no doubt, serve as an exemplar as head of the judiciary.

“My colleagues and I are delighted with the news and wish the new Lady Chief Justice all the best for the future.” 

During her career Mrs Justice Keegan served as Vice Chair of the Bar of Northern Ireland, Chair of the Young Bar, and Chair of the Bar Charity Committee, and was a long standing member of the Bar Professional Conduct Committee. On 23 November 2015, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).

Speaking earlier this month to Julian O'Neill, BBC News NI’s Home Affairs Correspondent, Bernard Brady QC, chairman of the Bar Council of Northern Ireland, said it was a ‘truly historic and well-deserved’ appointment.

"Having worked alongside Mrs Justice Keegan over many years on the Bar Council, I have no doubt that her vast experience will enable her to administer the office with great distinction," he said.

"This appointment will hopefully help to inspire other female members of the profession and the Bar Council is committed in various ways to helping others to follow the path she has successfully charted."

Rowan White, President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, said:

“As women now make up at least half of the legal profession in Northern Ireland it is encouraging to see a female become the head of the Judiciary.

“The Law Society looks forward to working with Chief Justice Keegan in her new role.”

Northern Ireland Justice Minister, Naomi Long welcomed the appointment on social media, tweeting: 

"I would like to extend my congratulations to The Honourable Mrs Justice Keegan who has been appointed the first ever Lady Chief Justice of NI. Already with a well-established judicial career, she will bring a wealth of wisdom & insight to her new role.”

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit graduate news items, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast or telephone: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.

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