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Legal System in Ireland

Table of Contents

Development of the Irish Legal System

The Irish Constitution of 1937

Primary Legislation: Acts of the Oireachtas

Secondary Legislation: Statutory Instruments

Courts and Case Law

Government Websites

Solicitors and Barristers

University Law Departments and Faculties

Irish Law Websites

Discussion Lists and Electronic Newsletters




Development of the Irish Legal System

Brehon Law was one of the earliest forms of law in Ireland and there have recently been attempts by the Brehon Law Project to revive interest in the subject. From the late twelfth century, Ireland was increasingly governed by English common law and by 1800 Ireland was fully integrated into the United Kingdom by the Act of Union passed in that year. A new Constitution in 1922 meant that twenty-six counties became the independent ‘Irish Free State.’ Six other counties in Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom, and this has, of course, been the subject of great controversy since then. (See Sarah Carter’s Guide to the UK Legal System for information on Northern Irish law.)


Article 73 of the 1922 Constitution carried all previous UK law forward into Irish law, which explains why some pre-1922 UK statutes are still in force in Ireland. A similar provision is found in Article 50 of the 1937 Constitution.

The Irish Constitution of 1937

The full text of the Constitution of 1937 is available at various sites, for example the Department of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister.)

This Constitution, which remains in force today, renamed the State Ireland (Article 4) and established four main institutions – the President, the Oireachtas (Parliament), the Government and the Courts.

The President is the directly elected Head of State but his/her powers are largely ceremonial. The President normally acts on the advice (instructions) of the Government. The Oireachtas (Parliament) consists of two Houses – the directly elected Dáil and indirectly elected Seanad. The Government is the Executive and consists of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Ministers. The most significant courts are the High Court and the Supreme Court. Descriptions of the powers of each of the institutions are available at the following sites:

  • Government in Ireland (Citizens’ Information site)
  • President of Ireland
  • Houses of the Oireachtas
  • Department of the Taoiseach
  • Courts

The Constitution also contains a strong set of fundamental rights at Articles 40-44, e.g. rights to equality before the law, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, education, etc. The courts may issue binding decisions that legislation is unconstitutional if it breaches these fundamental rights.

The Constitution has been amended on numerous occasions, and each amendment requires a referendum. In 1972, the Constitution was amended to recognise Ireland’s membership of the EEC (now the EU) and there have been similar amendments to recognise major new European Treaties such as the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997. The Belfast Agreement led to major amendments in 1998. Divorce was introduced by constitutional amendment in 1995, and abortion has been the subject of controversial amendments in 1983 and 1992.

Primary Legislation: Acts of the Oireachtas

Approximately forty Acts of the Oireachtas are passed each year. These are available in print from the Government Supplies Agency, which is part of the Office of Public Works – see contact details on theIrish Legal Publishers page.


In electronic form, there are various sources:

  • The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (Bailii)
    Currently this site offers Acts as enacted from 1922 to date. Amendments are not incorporated into legislation, so great care must be taken in using this site to search for subsequent amendments of the Acts. Some sections of pre-1922 legislation which continues to apply in Ireland may be found by going to the Northern Ireland part of the Bailii site  . An example is the Partnership Act 1890.
  • The Irish Legal Information Initiative  (Irlii)
    This site, managed by Dr John Mee of University College Cork Law Faculty, complements UCC’s contribution to the Bailii project by providing recent Irish Acts.
  • The Attorney General’s Office
    This site provides access to the Acts from 1922 to date and crucially also the Legislation Directory, which lists amendments to date. It is also possible to a certain extent to see whether a particular section of an Act is actually in force by checking the Commencement Orders section of the Legislation Directory.
  • The Houses of the Oireachtas
    Here you will find all Acts passed from 1922 to date, as well as all Bills published from 1997 to date. The site lists legislative history of Bills to date, including links to all relevant Parliamentary debates.


Secondary Legislation: Statutory Instruments

Most subordinate legislation is made by Government Ministers under powers conferred on them by Acts. Approximately 500 pieces of subordinate legislation are passed per year. Electronic access is provided at the following sites:

  • The British and Irish Legal Information Institute  (Bailii)
    Contains subordinate legislation passed from 1922 to date. There is no list of amendments.
  • The Attorney General’s Office
    Offers Subordinate Legislation from 1922 to date. There is no easy way to find out whether a piece of subordinate legislation is still in force or has been amended. Some assistance is provided in print form by Richard F. Humphreys’ Index to Irish Statutory Instruments (3 volumes, 1988)
  • Selected Statutory Instruments 2002 to date are available on the Irish Legal Information Initiative (Irlii) website.


Courts and Case law

The main courts website contains a particularly useful Frequently Asked Questions section (under ‘About Us’).

The principal printed series of reports are the Irish Reports and Irish Law Reports Monthly, cited as ‘IR’ and ‘ILRM’ respectively. Many cases remain unreported and are kept in the libraries of the main Universities or professional bodies. For electronic access to reported and unreported cases, see the following:

  • British and Irish Legal Information Institute  (Bailii)
    The most significant data here are in the Supreme Court (‘IESC’) and High Court (‘IEHC’) directories.  The database is not comprehensive so it is important to consult other sources.  The majority of cases date from 1997 (High Court) and 1998 (Supreme Court.)
    Bailii also provides access to decisions of the Competition Authority (‘IECA’) and Information Commissioner (‘IEIC’).
    In addition, Bailii also introduced vendor-neutral citations for the first time in Irish case-law, e.g. a Supreme Court case on Bailii may be cited as [2000] IESC 12.
  • Irish Legal Information Initiative (Irlii)
    This site provides a database of ‘leading Irish cases’ classified by subject, e.g. constitutional law cases include Attorney General V X (1992).  These cases are also available on the Bailii site.  Note also the Irlii index of cases.
  • Courts Service Judgments Database
    Recent cases from the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeal
  • Justis
    Fee-paying service, which offers access to judgments on an ongoing basis. A ten-day trial is available.
  • LexisNexis
    The ‘Ireland’ library contains a large number of reported and unreported cases.
  • Westlaw.IE
    Covers Irish Law Reports Monthly, Employment Law Reports, Irish Current Law Statutes Annotated, and various other materials.
  • European case law is available in various formats – see for example the European links.


Government Websites

The main Irish government website contains information from every Government department and most state bodies. The parts of most legal relevance, which have not been mentioned above, include:

  • Department of Justice and Law Reform
    Note for example Publications section
  • Garda Síochána (Police)
  • Department of Foreign Affairs
    Includes International Law
  • Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation
    Includes Employment Rights Information 
  • Law Reform Commission
  • Competition Authority
  • Equality Authority
  • Equality Tribunal
  • Companies Registration Office
  • Revenue Commissioners (Tax)

Note also the following portal sites, which include summaries of relevant laws:

  • Citizens’ Information
  • BASIS – Irish Government Information Services for Business


Solicitors and Barristers

Solicitors are educated and regulated by the Law Society. Many solicitors’ firms have websites, which are listed here.

Barristers are educated by the King’s Inns and regulated by the Bar Council / Law Library. Only a few barristers have websites – see for example Kieron Wood’s at

University Law Departments and Faculties

The main University Law Departments and Faculties have websites listing staff interests, courses available, etc. Here they are in alphabetical order:

  • NUI Galway
  • NUI Maynooth
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • University College Cork
  • University College Dublin
  • University of Limerick
  • Law lecturing staff are also found at other third level institutes such as Institutes of Technology – see the list here.


Irish Law Websites

The major portal site, managed by the author, is the Irish Law Site hosted by University College Cork Law Faculty. This site has been in existence since 1994 and contains links to all the major resources concerning Irish law, many of which have been mentioned above. It also includes a link to the searchable archive of Irish Law discussion-list messages and the facility to join a low-traffic ‘Updates’ list by filling in one’s name and e-mail address on the home page.  The site can be accessed here.

The site includes a list of subject pages on areas such as Commercial Law, Family Law, Property Law and Tort.

Other important Irish law websites include the following:

  • The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (Bailii)
  • The Law Society
  • Kieron Wood’s Site
  • Delia Venables’ Site
  • Legal Eagle Links (Declan O’Reilly)

Another Online Guide to Irish Law:

  • Jill Newell’s Guide to Irish Law at the Library of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (London)


Discussion Lists and Electronic Newsletters

  • Irish Law List
    This list has been in existence since 1994 and has an extensive archive of previous messages, which may be searched online. Messages have been moderated since 1997.
  • Irish Law Updates
  • Brehon Law Discussion List
  • Companies Registration Office Update
  • Many of the general Irish news sites provide daily or weekly news by e-mail, including legal news, e.g. RTE-IE and Emigrant-IE



  • Eoin O’Dell
  • Human Rights- IE
  • Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights
  • Rossa McMahon
  • IT Law in Ireland (TJ McIntyre)
  • Irish Law Updates


See also the list of blogs and twitter feeds here.



It is difficult to select the most important books on Irish law, and those with a specific interest in a particular area would be well advised to search the online catalogues of major Irish universities (e.g.Trinity College Dublin’s catalogue) for comprehensive listings. What follows is a list of some of the more significant titles in recent years. See also the subject law pages on the Irish law site, e.g.Commercial Law, Criminal Law, etc.


General Books

  • Raymond Byrne and Paul McCutcheon, The Irish Legal System, 5th ed., Bloomsbury Professional, Haywards Heath, 2009.
  • Brian Hunt, Murdoch’s Dictionary of Irish Law, 5th ed., Bloomsbury Professional, Haywards Heath, 2009.
  • Thomas O’Malley, Sources of Law: An Introduction to Legal Research and Writing, 2nd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2001.
  • Raymond Byrne and William Binchy, Annual Reviews of Irish Law, Round Hall, Dublin, 1987 to date.
  • Brian Doolan, Principles of Irish Law, 7th ed., Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 2007.

Administrative Law

  • Gerard Hogan and David Gwynn Morgan, Administrative Law in Ireland, 4th ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2010.


Banking Law

  • Mary Donnelly, The Law of Banks and Credit Institutions, Round Hall, Dublin, 1999.
  • William Johnston et al, Arthur Cox Banking Law Handbook, Banking and Security Law in Ireland, Tottel, Haywards Heath, 2007.


Commercial Law

  • Fidelma White, Commercial Law, Thomson Round Hall, Dublin, 2003.
  • Michael Forde, Commercial Law, 3rd Edition, Tottel, Haywards Heath, 2005.


Company Law

  • Thomas Courtney, Law of Private Companies, 2nd ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 2002, with contribution from Brian Hutchinson.
  • Michael Forde & Hugh Kennedy, Company Law, 4th ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2007.
  • Ronan Keane, Company Law, 4th ed., Tottel, Haywards Heath, 2007.


Constitutional Law

  • Gerard Hogan & Gerry Whyte, Kelly’s Irish Constitution, 4th ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 2003.
  • Michael Forde, Constitutional Law, 2nd ed., FirstLaw, Dublin, 2004.
  • James P. Casey, Constitutional Law in Ireland, 3rd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2000.


Contract Law

  • Robert Clark, Contract Law, 6th ed., Thomson Round Hall, Dublin, 2008.
  • Raymond Friel, Law of Contract, 2nd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2000.


Criminal Law

  • Liz Campbell, Shane Kilcommins & Catherine O’Sullivan, Criminal Law in Ireland: Cases and Commentary, Clarus Press, Dublin, 2010
  • Peter Charleton, Paul McDermott and Marguerite Bolger, Criminal Law, Butterworths, Dublin, 1999.
  • Conor Hanly, An Introduction to Irish Criminal Law, 2nd ed., Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 2006.


Employment Law / Labour Law

  • Neville Cox, Val Corbett & Des Ryan, Employment Law in Ireland (Dublin:  Clarus Press, 2009)
  • Maeve Regan (ed.), Employment Law (Sussex:  Tottel, 2009)
  • Michael Forde & Anthony Paul Byrne, Employment Law, 3rd ed. (Dublin: Round Hall, 2009)


Environmental Law

  • Yvonne Scannell, Environmental and Land Use Law, Round Hall, Dublin, 2006.


Equity and Trusts

  • Hilary Delany, Equity and the Law of Trusts in Ireland, 4th ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2007.
  • Aileen Keogan, John Mee & J.C.W. Wylie, Law and Taxation of Trusts, Tottel, Haywards Heath, 2007.



  • Caroline Fennell, Law of Evidence in Ireland, 3rd ed., Bloomsbury Professional, Haywards Heath, 2009.


Family and Child Law

  • Ursula Kilkelly, Children’s Rights in Ireland: Law, Policy and Practice, Tottel, Haywards Heath, 2008
  • Alan Shatter, Shatter’s Family Law, 4th ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 1997.
  • Jim Nestor, An Introduction to Irish Family Law, 3rd ed., Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 2007.


Human Rights

  • Ursula Kilkelly (ed.), The ECHR and Irish Law, 2nd ed., Jordan Publishing, Bristol, 2009.
  • Fiona de Londras & Cliona Kelly, European Convention on Human Rights Act: Operation, Impact and Analysis, Round Hall, Dublin, 2010.


Information Technology Law

  • Denis Kelleher and Karen Murray, Information Technology Law in Ireland, 2nd ed., Tottel, Haywards Heath, 2007.
  • Steve Hedley, Law of Electronic Commerce and the Internet in the UK and Ireland, Cavendish, London, 2006.


Intellectual Property Law

  • Robert Clark, Irish Copyright and Design Law, Butterworths, Dublin, 2001.
  • Robert Clark and Shane Smyth, Intellectual Property law in Ireland, 2nd ed., Tottel, Haywards Heath, 2005.


Medical and Mental Health Law

  • Deirdre Madden, Medicine, Law and Ethics in Ireland, Butterworths, Dublin, 2002.
  • Simon Mills, Clinical Practice and the Law, 2nd ed., Tottel, Haywards Heath, 2007
  • Darius Whelan, Mental Health Law and Practice: Civil and Criminal Aspects, Round Hall, Dublin, 2009
  • Anne Marie O’Neill, Irish Mental Health Law, FirstLaw, Dublin, 2005


Planning Law

  • Garrett Simons, Planning and Development Law, 2nd ed., Thomson Round Hall, Dublin, 2007.
  • Philip O’Sullivan & Katharine Shepherd, Irish Planning Law and Practice (Butterworths, 1991 with updates )  (loose-leaf)


Property Law

  • Fiona de Londras, Principles of Irish Property Law, Clarus Press, Dublin, 2007
  • Paul Coughlan, Property Law, 2nd ed., Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1998.
  • Andrew Lyall, Land Law in Ireland, 2nd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2000.
  • Robert Pearce and John Mee, Land Law, 2nd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2000.
  • J.C.W. Wylie, Irish Land Law, 3rd ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 1997.


Succession Law

  • James C. Brady, Succession Law in Ireland, 2nd ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 1995.
  • Albert Keating, Succession Law, Round Hall, Dublin, 2007.



  • Bryan McMahon & William Binchy, Irish Law of Torts, 3rd Edition, Butterworths, Dublin, 2000.
  • Eoin Quill, Torts in Ireland, 3rd ed., Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 2009.



Most Journals are published by Round Hall and in the list below, this is indicated by ‘RH’ in brackets.  Full text of Round Hall journals is available in the fee-paying Westlaw.IE database.

Journal articles up to 1983 are indexed in the following:

  • O’Higgins, Paul, A Bibliography of Periodical Literature Relating to Irish Law. Belfast: Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 1966.
  • O’Higgins, Paul, First Supplement to A Bibliography of Periodical Literature Relating to Irish Law. Belfast: Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 1973.
  • O’Higgins, Paul, Second Supplement to A Bibliography of Periodical Literature Relating to Irish Law. Belfast: SLS Publications, 1983.

From 1983 to 1997, there is no comprehensive index available although a few journals are indexed in the Index to Legal Periodicals and online at sites such as Ingenta or OCLC.

From 1997 on, many journals are indexed in the excellent IRLII Periodicals Index, hosted by UCC Law Faculty at Legal Periodicals

General Journals

  • Irish Jurist (RH) [Table of Contents]
  • Dublin University Law Journal (RH) [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Journal of Legal Studies [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Law Times (RH) [Table of Contents]
  • Bar Review – published by Bar Council    [Table of Contents]
  • Contemporary Issues in Irish Law and Politics, 1998-2000 (RH)
  • Gazette [of Law Society of Ireland] – published by Law Society   [Table of Contents] +  [Full Text]
  • Irish Current Law Monthly Digest (RH)
  • Judicial Studies Institute Journal  [Table of Contents]
  • Hibernian Law Journal – [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Law Review  [Table of Contents]    (formerly Independent Law Review)
  • Dlí – The Western Law Gazette
  • Cork Online Law Review [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Student Law Review  [King’s Inns]
  • Trinity College Law Review
  • University College Dublin Law Review
  • Galway Student Law Review
  • University of Limerick Law Review

Specialist Journals

  • Commercial Law Practitioner (RH)  [Table of Contents]
  • Conveyancing and Property Law Journal (RH) [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Employment Law Journal (RH) [Table of Contents]
  • Employment Law Review – Ireland
  • Arbitration and ADR Review
  • Irish Business Law Quarterly [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Criminal Law Journal (RH)  [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Yearbook of International Law  [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Human Rights Law Review
  • Quarterly Review of Tort Law
  • Irish Financial Services Law Journal, 2000-2001 (RH)
  • Irish Insurance Law Review, 1997-1999 (RH)
  • Irish Intellectual Property Law Review, 1997-1999 (RH)  [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Journal of European Law (RH)  [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Journal of Family Law (RH)  [Table of Contents]
  • Irish Planning and Environmental Law Journal (RH)  [Table of Contents]
  • Medico-Legal Journal of Ireland (RH)  [Table of Contents] + [Journal Information]
  • Journal of Civil Practice and Procedure, 2005-2007 (RH) [Table of Contents]
  • Technology and Entertainment Law Journal, 2000-2001 (RH) [Table of Contents]
  • The Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly  [Table of Contents].

Source - PTI

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