Sir Ian Burnett appointed as lord chief justice

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Jul 17, 2017
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Sir Ian has been a Court of Appeal judge since 2014

Johnny Green/PA

The judge who was counsel in the inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed and the inquiry into King’s Cross fire will be the next lord chief justice.

Downing Street announced that the 59-year-old Court of Appeal judge, Sir Ian Burnett, will become the most senior judge in England and Wales on October 2. Sir Ian, who takes up the role with the retirement of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has significant experience across many high-profile cases and inquiries.

His final case at the Bar was as counsel to the inquests into the deaths in Paris of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi al Fayed in 1997. Sir Ian also acted as junior counsel to the inquiry into the 1987 King’s Cross fire and to the inquiry into the convictions of the Guildford Four and the Maguire family. The judge’s extensive experience also includes being lead counsel to the inquiry into the 1997 Southall rail disaster and into train protection systems following the 1999 Paddington crash.

Sir Ian was one of those tipped to take the top judicial job, although he had not been seen as the frontrunner. The other top contender, Sir David Lloyd Jones, is now regarded as likely to go to the Supreme Court.

Despite not being the commentators’ top tip, judges were enthusiastic about Sir Ian’s appointment yesterday. “His appointment will be widely welcomed by judges including the circuit bench,” said one. “He is much respected and admired man with enormous energy and ability. He is very personable and committed.” The judge added that while vice-president of the judicial appointments commission, Sir Ian had espoused the need for a diverse range of candidates.

Sir Ian, who lives in Essex with his wife and children, was educated at St John’s College, Southsea, which was then a direct grant grammar school, on a scholarship from West Sussex county council. He went on to study law at Pembroke College, Oxford, and was called to the bar in 1980. In 1998 he was appointed as a QC and to the High Court bench ten years later. 

Sir Ian has been involved in many judicial review and public law cases and, in the years following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, he dealt with cases concerning the government’s response to the terror risk.

He was presiding judge of the Western Circuit from 2011 until 2014, when he was appointed to the Court of Appeal. At that level, he heard the full range of civil, family and criminal appeals. Until his appointment as lord chief justice, Sir Ian was the appeal judge with responsibility for extradition cases and is also supervising lord justice for immigration and public law appeals.

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