Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Two eminent Queen’s graduates appointed first ever female NI High Court judges 

23 October 2015

Two women have been appointed as High Court judges for the first time since the Court was established in Northern Ireland in 1921. Senior legal figures Denise McBride QC (LLB 1988) and Siobhan Keegan QC (LLB 1993) were sworn in today by Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan.

While women are proportionately represented among judicial office holders in Northern Ireland, men dominate the higher ranks. Even on lower benches, only a small number of prominent female judges hear cases and prior to today’s appointments, only 22 per cent of senior judicial posts were filled by women. Now two of Northern Ireland’s 10 High Court judges are female.

Commenting on the ‘double first’, the Head of the School of Law at Queen’s, Professor Sally Wheeler, said: “I am absolutely delighted with the news of these important appointments. Both Denise McBride QC and Siobhan Keegan QC are fantastic candidates and will undoubtedly make excellent High Court judges.

"As Head of School, I am very proud of the many top class women who pass through here every year. Queen’s Law School has a growing reputation for producing excellent graduates and while this doesn’t resolve all the problems surrounding the representation of women in key public positions, it is certainly excellent progress. Denise and Siobhan are two powerful female role models for those contemplating a law degree at Queen’s.”

Ms McBride (left) is a former pupil of Clough Primary School and Down High School, Downpatrick. She was called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1989, the year after she graduated from Queen’s. She was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in September 2011 and has appeared as an advocate at all court levels, including the UK’s Supreme Court. During her career she has specialised in chancery, family, civil and international law.

In 2006 she was appointed an Honorary Lecturer at Queen’s in recognition of long service as a tutor and guest lecturer. She also served as vice chair of the Bar Council from 2012-2014.

A former pupil of St Clare’s Primary School and Scared Heart Grammar School in Newry, Mrs Keegan (right) graduated in 1993 and was called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in September the following year.

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

Mrs 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.

Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan identified the lack of representation of women in the judiciary as a problem in 2012. Sir Declan, who is chairman of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission NIJAC), the body responsible for selecting judges, established a Joint Liaison Committee (JLC) involving senior representatives of the Bar Council and Law Society to address the gender imbalance in the top jobs. Today he welcomed the appointments.

"Ms Denise McBride QC and Mrs Siobhan Keegan QC are excellent lawyers and meritorious appointments and I am confident they will serve as members of the judiciary for the benefit of the community as a whole," said Sir Declan.

"Since assuming the role of Lord Chief Justice and chairman of NIJAC, I have promoted a number of initiatives aimed at ensuring that the judiciary is as reflective as possible of the community, while at the same time emphasising that the merit principle should never be compromised.

"I will continue to encourage our most talented practitioners to put themselves forward for appointment, safe in the knowledge that merit will always be the overriding consideration.

"These appointments are a clear demonstration that diversity and merit go hand in hand,” he added.

The two new appointees fill places on the High Court Bench vacated by Justice Reginald Weir and Justice Ronald Weatherup who moved up to the Appeal Court earlier this year.

To find out more about studying Law at Queen's visit the School's website. To support the construction of the new School of Law building email Helen Carrick, Head of Major Gifts, or call 028 9097 3403.

Back to Main News



Top of Page