Public Affairs

President of the European Court of Human Rights: Síofra O’Leary

In November 2022, Dublin-born Síofra O’Leary was appointed the President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), becoming the first woman to hold the position.

A University College Dublin (UCD) alumni and Honorary Bencher for the Honourable Society of the King’s Inns, Ireland, O’Leary has been a judge of the ECtHR since July 2012 and served as Vice-President of the Court since 2022 before replacing Robert Spano as President.

Speaking at the official opening of the judicial year 2023 on 27 January in Strasbourg, O’Leary said in her maiden speech that she felt the heavy responsibility entailed by the office, “bequeathing the Convention edifice intact to future generations”.

Based in Luxembourg, the Court ensures compliance with EU law and rules on the interpretation and application of the treaties establishing the European Union.

As well as representing the Court and directing its work, the president is also responsible for relations with the Council of Europe. The President presides at plenary meetings of the Court and its Grand Chamber but does not take part in the consideration of cases being heard by Chambers of the Court, except where he or she is the judge elected in respect of the contracting party concerned.

European Court of Human Rights.

O’Leary was made a Bachelor of Law by UCD in 1999, before going on to study a PhD on European Law at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

Prior to her appointment to the Court, O’Leary held a number of academic positions, including fellowships at the University of Cádiz, the Institute for Public Policy and Research in London, the University of Cambridge, and University College Dublin.

Before being sworn in as a judge at the European Court of Human Rights in July 2015, she served as a référendaire and chef de cabinet at the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg, and taught LLM courses at the College of Europe in Bruges.

O’Leary was elected by the plenary court by secret ballot and will serve as president for three years.

Then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD, congratulated O’Leary at the time of her election, saying: “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. It is a source of pride that the first female President of the Court should be an Irish judge.

“The Court is central to the protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law in Europe. Never have these ideals and principles been more important.”

On 1 February 2023, O’Leary spoke at a St Brigid’s Day EU50 lecture at the Department of Foreign Affairs, about rights conferred by European law on different groups in Irish society.

Discussing progress in Ireland, O’Leary said that the European Convention on Human Rights had not been the sole, or even the major, driver of Ireland’s transformations over the past 50 years. Instead, she explained, “the Court has brought oxygen to ongoing national debates, and, in others, it was able to address certain blind spots within the Irish legal system”.

O’Leary proclaimed that Ireland had now placed itself in the vanguard in relation to rights and freedoms of sexual minorities.

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