The principal types of online law sources in the Republic of Ireland are as follows:
- legislative material published by the State;
- legal publishers’ materials pitched at the legal professions, subject to subscription;
- general citizens’ rights and business information;
- information and guides published by various statutory bodies on their activities;
- a number of legal blogs on particular topics; and
- articles on legal practitioners’ websites.
Legislation and case law
The Irish statute book was largely inaccessible, even to practitioners, until recent years. The Irish statutes and statutory instruments were put onto CD-ROM in 1998 and made available online. They are now on the Irish Statute Book website () and are also published on BAILII.
It is only within the last 10 years that most of the pre-independence (1922) statutes have been published on the Irish Statute Book website. Before that, the Irish Stationery Office (now long closed) directed persons looking for those statutes to HMSO / TSO in London. In practice, they were available in a handful of libraries.
In contrast to the practice in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland of publishing series of Revised Statutes from the middle of the 20th century onwards, “official” revised statutes were not published in Ireland, until relatively recently. The Irish Attorney General’s office has gradually revised and published online, administrative consolidations of over 300 frequently used acts.
As in the United Kingdom, most case law has been published free online in Ireland since 1997. The most common points of free online access are through the Courts Service website and BAILII.
There is a considerable market for UK texts and online access to UK materials in Ireland. In the key common law areas, UK texts and the current editions of Halsbury’s laws are widely purchased, both in their hardback form and now more commonly, in online form. UK case law is extensively cited in the Irish courts.
Many Irish legal practitioners have a hardcopy library or online access which includes one of the main UK law report series, Halsbury’s Laws of England, Practical law, the Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents as well as the Common Law Library and other practitioners’ texts.
Most of the main international legal publishers have a presence or associate relationship in the Irish market. There are several smaller scale publishers who do not publish material online. Some publishers publish their own textbooks with complimentary online access or with online access only.
Round Hall is associated with Thompson Reuters and has published over two hundred legal texts, an Annual Review of Irish law and Annotations to the Statutes over the last 30 years. Thomson Reuters Round Hall publishes CDs and online material as Westlaw IE.
Westlaw IE has an Irish offering with access to selected case law, some consolidated legislation, some journals and online versions of approximately 30 of their Irish textbooks on a subscription basis.
Justis publishes the online version of the Irish reports and Digests, the “official reports” published since 1866 by the Incorporated Council for Law Reporting in Ireland. This is offered on a stand-alone basis or with other material, including UK material. Practitioners may subscribe for an Irish offering or for a wider UK and Irish offering.
Bloomsbury Professional has an Irish law offering, with books, loose-leafs and online services for lawyers. Its primary areas include property; company; employment; tort; banking and finance; commercial; and intellectual property, with a diverse collection of other practice areas covered. Its online services cover the following areas: property, company, employment, wills & probate.
Blackhall Publishing publishes hardcopy texts with or without online access principally in the area of consolidations of key legislation and court rules. Clarus Press publishes over 50 titles with journals, students and practitioners’ texts
There is nothing comparable to Halsbury’s laws of England, Halsbury Statutes, the English and Empire Digest / the Digest, the Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents or Practical law. Many Irish practitioners subscribe to these services and adapt them for use in Ireland.
The Irish State publishes basic Citizens Information at citizensinformation.ie. This is similar to the GOV.UK site. The information is user-friendly and deals principally with issues of concern to private citizens. It contains broad overviews of the legal and practical position in the relevant areas. Its short articles contain links to the state agencies, relevant to their specific subject matter, eg the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social Protection etc.
The Irish Single Point of Contact under the EU Services Directive publishes information on licensing and business topics. The site largely contains links to the relevant agencies such as Health and Safety Authority, the Workplace Relations Commission, the Companies Registration Office, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Revenue Commissioners.
Law firms and bloggers
Many legal firms publish articles on an ad hoc basis in relation to areas of interest. Some solicitors have written quite detailed client orientated material on their particular areas of practice.
There are a number of bloggers who comment on areas of interest to them and to the public. Some do so from an academic perspective while others do so principally from a practice marketing perspective. Some have elements of both.
Why is all this information not very helpful to ordinary people?
- The online statutory and case law material is of very little practical use to non-lawyers and almost impossible for the non-experienced user to understand. The explicit plain English approach to statutory drafting has not been adopted in Ireland.
- The online material produced by commercial publishers in the core legal areas is too technical and expensive for most non-legally qualified users.
- The material on public sector websites varies in its depth and relevance and is often very simplistic. Coverage of important topics is sporadic.
- The better and more comprehensive material on State Agency websites typically provides guidance on particular issues but does not attempt to systematically set out to explain the relevant field. Much of the material is aimed at practitioners.
- The State websites do not cover the core legal areas taught in law schools that are essential to understanding legal issues. Typically, they publish information on public services or private rights. They are good, for example, on employment and consumer rights, but simply do not cover critical areas such as civil liability, property law, contract, banking and the sale of goods.
- Most blog sites are quite specialist and deal with a particular area. They do not seek to provide a simple introduction or overview of the area, but more commonly deal with quite specific topical issues.
- The material available on law firms’ websites does not usually give too much away. It typically covers recent matters of interest. It is commonly in particular niche areas or is a very general overview of a particular topic. It is rarely designed as a stand-alone useful explanation of the subject matter.
The Irish Legal Guide
To redress these failings I wrote and published the Irish Legal Guide which seeks to simplify the law and make it available to the public at large. It is aimed primarily at businesses and private persons who want to gain an understanding of legal issues. It is not a substitute for legal advice but should assist users in purchasing legal services in a rational and informed way. They should be in a position to deal with their lawyers from an informed perspective.
The Guide seeks to present a concise but comprehensive overview of all areas of Irish law. It summarises the legislation and/ or common law on each topic in approximately 3,000 articles. The subject matter is organised in a familiar hierarchical tree structure so that the user can open down three branches from the top, through the relevant topics and subtopics, to the relevant article.
Each article contains an extensive list of references and sources and also contains a “Legal Materials” tab giving access to the original legislation, sample case law or other public sector material. The Legal Materials are themselves indexed so that the user opens an index of sections and case names and navigates down one further level to see the relevant section or sample case.
The content will ultimately cover the same broad range of topics as Halsbury’s Laws of England. This includes many areas for which there is no current Irish textbook or secondary source. There are at present over 750 articles on the website. This covers the areas of law relevant to doing business in Ireland. A further 250 articles covering tax, competition and intellectual property will be added in the coming months. Its content and structure can currently be reviewed at legalguide.ie/service/all. Click down three levels to the index to find the relevant article.
Over 600 further articles, covering property, litigation, civil liability, environmental law (in a very broad sense) and EU law which is in draft form and is intended for future publication in the Irish Legal Guide have been published on McMahon Legal Blog.
Further material covering public law and regulation is being added at present, which will bring the total number of further articles on this site near to 1,000 in the coming months.
Irish Legal Guide is a subscription website with subscriptions starting at €40 for the first three months. Any user can sign up with their email address for a no obligation one-week trial.
And finally, Brexit websites!
I have published another site called Brexit Legal (an Irish Guide). This contains over 450 articles dealing with the various legal issues which Brexit raises. Approximately 60 per cent of the content is my summary of the issues concerned and a further 40 per cent is republished public sector information from the UK, the EU and the Republic of Ireland. This is a free site with no subscription or registration requirement.
I have copied most of this content onto a further site called Brexit Legal Issues. I intend to include further UK specific Brexit material drawing on and trying to make manageable, the enormous quantity of UK and EU public sector material available on Brexit. This is a free site with no subscription or registration requirement.
Paul McMahon has practised as a Republic of Ireland solicitor for over 25 years and also practised as an England and Wales solicitor from Dublin for many years as part of an overseas practice. His firm is McMahon Legal, Solicitors, at mcmahonlegal.ie. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.