Legal Dictionary

Chief Justice

Legal Definition of Chief Justice

Related terms

Definition of Chief Justice


Chief Justice

  1. The senior presiding justice of a court.


Further reading

The Chief Justice in many countries is the name for the presiding member of a Supreme Court in Commonwealth or other countries with an Anglo-Saxon justice system based on English common law, such as the Supreme Court of Canada, the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong, the Supreme Court of India, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Supreme Court of Nepal, the Supreme Court of Ireland, the Supreme Court of New Zealand, the High Court of Australia, the Supreme Court of the United States, or provincial or state supreme courts. In England and Wales and Northern Ireland, the equivalent position is the Lord Chief Justice and in Scotland the equivalent is the Lord President of the Court of Session.

The Chief Justice can be appointed to the post in a variety of different ways, but in many nations the presiding position is commonly given to the senior-most justice in the court, while in the United States it is often the President's most important political nomination, subject to approval by the United States Senate. Although the title of this top American jurist is, by statute, Chief Justice of the United States, the term "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court" is often used unofficially.

In some states the Chief Justice has another title, e.g. president of the Supreme Court. In other cases the title of Chief Justice is used, but the court has another name, e.g. the Supreme Court of Judicature in colonial (British) Ceylon, the Court of Appeals in Maryland.


The Chief Justice is often responsible for serving as chair during private supreme court deliberations, and often is first to voice their opinion. However, most Supreme Courts are non-hierarchical, meaning the Chief Justice does not necessarily have any direct power of control over the actions of the other judges.[citation needed] Their personal ruling is equal in weight to the rulings of any associate judges on the court.

In several countries, the Chief Justice is second in line to the Office of President or Governor General, should the incumbent die or resign, or third, if there is a Vice President or Lieutenant Governor General. For example, the Chief Justice of Canada, if the Governor General of Canada is unable to perform his or her duties, performs the duties of the Governor General.

Apart from their intrinsic role in litigation, they may have additional competences, such as "swearing in" high officers of state; for instance, the Chief Justice of the United States traditionally administers the oath of office at the inauguration ceremony of the President of the United States, as does the Chief Justice of South Africa at the inauguration of the President of South Africa.

List of Chief Justice positions

  • Bailiff of Guernsey
  • Bailiff of Jersey
  • Chief Justice of Albania
  • Chief Justice of Australia
  • Chief Justice of Bangladesh
  • Chief Justice of Canada
  • Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Estonia
  • Chief Justice of Fiji
  • Chief Justice of Hong Kong
  • Chief Justice of India
  • Chief Justice of Ireland
  • Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya
  • Chief Justice of Liberia
  • Chief Justice of Malta
  • Chief Justice of Malaysia
  • Chief Justice of the Federated States of Micronesia
  • Chief Justice of Namibia
  • Chief Justice of New Zealand
  • Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria
  • Chief Justice of Norway
  • Chief Justice of Pakistan
  • Chief Justices of the Federal Shariat Court
  • Chief Justice of the Philippines
  • Chief Justice of Singapore
  • Chief Justice of Sri Lanka
  • Chief Justice of South Africa
  • Chief Justice of Tanzania
  • Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago
  • Chief Justice of Zanzibar
  • Chief Justice of the United States
  • Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales
  • Lord Chief Justice of Ireland
  • Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     landed property
2.     common stock
3.     lex situs
4.     lex causae
5.     lex fori
6.     status quo
7.     buggery
8.     conclusive presumption
9.     interlocutory
10.     writ of seizure and sale