Bar Council of Ireland

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Bar Council of Ireland, Dublin

The Bar of Ireland is the regulatory and representative body for barristers practising law in the Republic of Ireland. The General Council of The Bar of Ireland is composed of twenty-five members composed of twenty elected members, four co-opted members and Attorney-General who holds office ex officio. The elected members are elected in annual elections in which ten members are elected for two-year terms. Each year five members are elected from amongst senior counsel and five from amongst junior council.

The Bar of Ireland operate the Law Library which has premises in the Four Courts, Church Street and in the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin, and a smaller library in Cork. Membership of the Law Library is, in effect compulsory for barristers wishing to practise in the Republic, and is often used as a metonym for the Irish Bar itself. Prior to the creation of The Bar of Ireland in 1897, barristers in Ireland were only loosely organised through their occupation of a physical premises of the Law Library.

Famous Barristers[edit]

Patrick Pearse, BL

Of the 13 Taoisigh since the founding of the State, six trained to be barristers: John A Costello, Liam Cosgrave, Jack Lynch, Garret FitzGerald, Charles Haughey and John Bruton. Mary Robinson, Ireland's first female president, was also a successful barrister before pursuing a career in politics and then human rights. President Mary McAleese was a barrister and law lecturer. Seán MacBride, who was the only person to be awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Lenin Peace Prize, was also a barrister. Of the six Irish Commissioners since 1973, four have been barristers: Richard Burke, Michael O'Kennedy, Peter Sutherland and David Byrne. Patrick Pearse, the leading Irish revolutionary of the twentieth century, had an early interest in the law, trained to be a barrister at the King's Inns and was called to the Bar in 1901. He practised at the Bar for a time, but instead of pursuing a legal career he decided to spend his life challenging the existing authority in the country. Sir Edward Carson, famous orator and Unionist politician, began his career as a barrister. The first leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party was Isaac Butt, one of the most skilled barristers of the day. The most important Irish politician of the nineteenth century, Daniel O'Connell was one of the most distinguished barristers of his day. Robert Emmet, Irish revolutionary, studied at the King's Inns; the brilliance of his speech from the dock captured the popular imagination and created a powerful and enduring legend. Other famous Irish barristers include The Earl of Clare, Wolfe Tone and Henry Grattan.


The Bar of Ireland's code of conduct was changed on 13 March 2006 in a preliminary report on the barristers' profession.[1] In December 2006, the Competition Authority produced a detailed report outlining and highlighting self-regulating procedures created and enforced by The Bar of Ireland.[1] Three months later, the Government's Better Regulation Unit (a branch of the Department of the Taoiseach) found that The Bar of Ireland had actually set out important professional standards and rules and maintained and enforced those standards and rules even though statute did not put any onus on The Bar of Ireland to do so.[2]

Barristers were allowed to advertise their services for the first time in 2008, subject to guidelines published by The Bar of Ireland. The information may be illustrated by a "passport-style photograph of the barrister."[3]

Notwithstanding its status as a private, unincorporated association The Bar of Ireland has been designated as one of the state's two competent authorities for the regulation of the legal profession within the state (the other being the Law Society of Ireland). These regulations define a barrister as "a person who has been called to the Bar of Ireland and who complies with the requirements of The Bar of Ireland as to professional practice".[4]

Difference between "The Bar of Ireland" and the "Law Library"[edit]

The "Law Library" predates the creation of The Bar of Ireland of Ireland by up to 100 years. The Law Library was originally a small room attached to the Four Courts intended to accommodate barristers before and between court appearances (before there was a Law Library, barristers simply stood around the main hall of the Four Courts to attract clients). Today, the Law Library extends to a collection of rooms behind the main Four Courts building (owned and maintained by the Office of Public Works[5]), as well as two large stand-alone buildings on nearby Church St, and a small law library in Cork city, owned by Law Library Properties Ltd, a private company. Today, the Bar Council of Ireland administers the various Law Library premises, although as it is not a formal legal entity and so cannot own property, it relies on some of its barrister-members to act as directors of Law Library Properties Ltd.

Why are there no barristers' chambers in Ireland?[edit]

Following on from their close historical linkages to the English Inns of Court (until 1885, all intending Irish barristers were obliged to "keep terms" in an English Inns of Court before being called to the Irish Bar and being entitled to practise as barristers in Ireland), for much of the nineteenth century it appeared that a chambers system for barristers would catch on in Ireland.[6] Initially, the benchers of King's Inns themselves made plans to build chambers for Irish barristers, in the vicinity of Dublin's Henrietta St. From about 1793, the benchers went so far as to decide to have chambers built, both by the King's Inns and by barristers who would lease building land from the benchers for their own chambers. Deposits were levied annually from new barristers and solicitors, and rules were even agreed by the benchers for the regulation of tenancies by Irish barristers in chambers. Despite the levying of barristers by the benchers however, due to practical objections raised by architect James Gandon concerning the difficulty of building the main King's Inns building at the same time as private chambers, barristers' chambers were never built by the benchers and the idea of chambers for Irish barristers has languished to the present day.

Distinction between junior and senior counsel[edit]

In Dáil Éireann on 13 June 2000, Jan O'Sullivan asked "when the Government first granted patents of precedence to barristers at the Irish Bar; the historical circumstances giving rise to the decision to make the grant of patents of precedence to barristers at the Irish Bar by the Government; the basis for the grant of patents of precedence by the Government to barristers at the Irish Bar; and if he will make a statement on the matter."[7] the Taoiseach replied:

Since the establishment of the State, the Government has granted patents of precedence to barristers leading to the call to the senior Bar by the Chief Justice. Historically, at common law, the grant of silk was an exercise of the royal prerogative. The transfer of functions which had previously been dependent on the royal prerogative, to the Executive Council of Saorstát Éireann was clarified by section 2 of the Executive Powers (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1937. The function is now exercised by the Government as successor to the executive council and is no longer dependent on the royal prerogative.

On 4 July 2001 the Taoiseach stated the Government had "no plans to change the procedures for the granting of patents of precedence."[8]

In 2009, the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes said that it had [9] looked at the difference in the level of legal fees payable to junior and senior counsel. The Government, at its discretion, grants Patents of Precedence at the Bar on the recommendation of an Advisory Committee consisting of the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Attorney General and the Chairman of the General Council of The Bar of Ireland.

See also[edit]

  • King's Inns, trains and regulates entry of barristers in Ireland


  • "Solicitors & Barristers – Final Report" (PDF). Dublin: Competition Authority. 11 December 2006. 
  • Fair Trade Commission (1990). Report of Study into Restrictive Practices in the Legal Profession. Dublin: Stationery Office. 


  1. ^ a b Competition Authority 2006
  2. ^ Better Regulation Unit (February 2007). "Bodies in Ireland with Regulatory Powers" (PDF). Department of the Taoiseach. §2.9. The Bar of Ireland does not have a statutory basis, but given the importance of its role it has been included in this Report. 
  3. ^ Wood, Kieron (23 March 2008). "Barristers will be free to advertise". Sunday Business Post. Dublin. Retrieved 8 August 2010. 
  4. ^ S.I. No. 732/2003 — European Communities (Lawyers' Establishment) Regulations 2003
  5. ^ Commissioner of Valuation v. General Council of the Bar of Ireland and The Honorable Society of King's Inns; Corporation of Dublin v. Same (Circuit Court) 68 I. L. T. R. 41 (1934)
  6. ^ Kenny, Colum (1996). Tristram Kennedy and the revival of Irish legal training, 1835–1885. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Academic Press in association with the Irish Legal History Society. ISBN 0-7165-2591-7. 
  7. ^ Written Answers. – Patents of Precedence Dáil Éireann – Volume 521 – 13 June 2000
  8. ^ Written Answers. – Patents of Precedence Dáil Éireann – Volume 540 – 4 July 2001
  9. ^ Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes (2009). "Distinction between junior and senior counsel" (PDF). Report, Vol. 2. Dublin: Stationery Office. p. 210. 

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