EU dispatch: Irish judge elected first female ECHR president at challenging juncture
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EU dispatch: Irish judge elected first female ECHR president at challenging juncture

Law students from the European Union are reporting for JURIST on law-related events in and affecting the European Union and its member states. Ciara Dinneny is a trainee with the Law Society of Ireland. She files this dispatch from Dublin.

Judge Siofra O’Leary, the Irish judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), has been elected the President of the ECHR. Her election was announced last Monday. Judge O’Leary will be the first female President elected since the court’s establishment 63 years ago.  She is due to take up office on 1st November 2022, for a two-year term of office, taking over from her predecessor Judge Robert Spano from Iceland.

Judge O’Leary has a Bachelor of Civil Law from University College Dublin and a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. From 1996, she held the position of Référendaire (consultant) at the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg (CJEU), where she became ‘Chef de Cabinet’ from 2000 to 2004. She was then appointed as a judge in the ECHR in 2015 and took up the role of vice-president in January 2022.

Judge O’Leary’s appointment comes at a very significant moment both for the ECHR and the Council of Europe as we emerge from the pandemic and continue to deal with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the largest war in Europe since World War Two.  The latter has already resulted in Russia withdrawing from the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with there being talks of the United Kingdom also potentially withdrawing. O’Leary will have to pave the way for justice across Europe at this vital moment.

Her appointment will also continue to further Ireland’s international reputation as a State that respects the rule of law and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is the second time in recent years that Ireland has been represented at a prominent international organisation, following Ireland being elected to the United Nations Security Council in January 2021 for a term of two years. Another prominent Irish lawyer, former Irish President Mary Robinson, was United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.

The appointment has been welcomed by several prominent Irish figures. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney said that “Judge O’Leary has served with great distinction since her appointment to the Court, and her election as President is a mark of the high regard in which she is held“. He further stated that “[i]t is a source of pride that the first female President of the Court should be an Irish judge.”