Insight

The rule of law in Ireland

07/07/2020
The rule of law in Ireland

The law in Ireland consists of Irish constitutional law, Statute and Common Law.

The Irish Constitution

The Irish Constitution was enacted in 1937 and is the cornerstone of the Irish legal system. It is the source of power exercised by the Irish government. The Irish courts may strike down laws if they are inconsistent with the Irish Constitution.

The Irish Constitution can only be amended by referendum. There have been 37 referendums: 27 of which were approved by the Irish people and 10 of which were rejected.

Under the Irish Constitution, many rights are guaranteed to citizens, and these include:

  • Freedom of expression
  • Right to equality before the law
  • Freedom to travel
  • Freedom of conscience and religion
  • Right to education
  • And right to personal privacy

Statute

In terms of Statute, Article 50 of the Irish Constitution carried over all laws that had been in force in the Irish Free State prior to its coming into force in 1937, therefore the Irish statute book stretches back in excess of 800 years and includes many British Statutes. Modern-day Statute law is made by the Oireachtas (a part of the Irish national parliament) and all Statute law must comply with the Irish Constitution.

Common Law

Ireland is a common law country, similar to countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. As with any common-law system, the Irish courts are bound to apply clear precedents set by higher courts except that the Irish Supreme Court is not bound by its own previous decisions.

EU

Ireland has been a member state of the European Union since 1973, therefore Ireland (along with other member states) cannot pass national laws that contradict EU laws and an EU law can have direct application in Ireland. Ireland is now the only native English speaking country in the EU.