Membership of the Society is open to anyone. Our Society includes members of the judiciary, practising lawyers, academic lawyers, historians, students and members of the general public.
The Irish Legal History Society examines, explores and engages with all issues relating to legal history on the island of Ireland, from earliest times to the present day. Founded in 1988, the Society holds two Discourses annually, as well as publishing scholarly works on a range of legal history subjects. On this website you can see our range of publications, you can find out about our recent and future events, as well as information about joining.
Mary Phelan, Irish Speakers, Interpreters and the Courts 1754-1921 (Four Courts Press 2019).
This book was launched by Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh of the Court of Appeal at a reception at DCU on Tuesday 21 January 2020. The event was well-attended by academics from a number of disciplines including law, history, translation studies, Irish studies and linguistics.
Professor Dorothy Kenny from the DCU School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies welcomed attendees and the interdisciplinary and ground-breaking nature of the research was highlighted by Professor Patrick Geoghegan, President of the Irish Legal History Society. Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh spoke about the position of the Irish language in the State and in the courts, noting the continued relevance of a number of themes running through the book.
Dr Mary Phelan is a lecturer in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies (SALIS) at DCU. She is the chairperson of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association and her research is in the field of Translation Studies, particularly historical provision of court interpreters and contemporary provision of interpreters in courts, police stations, hospitals and other settings.
The book is available for purchase directly from Four Courts Press, and is supplied free of charge to all ILHS members.
In 2018 Dr Claudia Passarella from the University of Padua visited Dublin to conduct research into Irish judges and juries. This trip was funded by the Irish Legal History Society Post-Doctoral Bursary. Dr Passarella was able to access a range of legal and historical sources during her stay in Dublin, at UCD Special Collections, Trinity College Early Printed Books, the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives of Ireland.
This research was ultimately published in 2019 in the international peer-reviewed journal Comparative Legal History as "The juries’ wisdom in the administration of criminal justice: Irish jurisdiction and the Italian justice system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This article aims to investigate the relationship between professional judges and laypersons in criminal matters, with special reference to the decision-making procedure performed by the Irish system and the Italian system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The paper focuses on judges’ and jurors’ duties both before and after the verdict. This field of research provides context for a careful consideration on some fundamental issues, such as the judges’ charges and their influence over the jury, the principle of reasonable doubt, the distinction between unanimous verdicts and verdicts by majority vote, and the consequences of a disagreement among jurors. A comparative approach reveals how two European countries with a distinctive legal tradition faced the same problems by adopting different solutions.
Dr Pasarella's other publications, in both English and Italian, can be viewed here: https://unipd.academia.edu/claudiapassarella
The Society is excited to announce that the 2021 British Legal History Conference will be coming to Belfast for the first time.
The conference will take place at Queen's University in July 2021. Further details and a call for papers will be published in due course.
For general information about travelling to and staying in Belfast, see www.visitbelfast.com
Our 2019 Winter Discourse takes place this Friday 6 December. Professor Richard English will deliver a paper entitled Legacies of the Irish Revolution: Ernie O'Malley and the IRA.
The Discourse begins at 6 pm in the Upper Bar Library, Royal Courts of Justice. All welcome.
Richard English is Professor of Politics at Queen's University Belfast, where he is also Distinguished Professorial Fellow in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. Professor English's research focuses on the politics and history of nationalism, political violence, and terrorism, with a particular focus on Ireland and Britain. His books include Does Terrorism Work? A History (OUP, 2016), Modern War: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2013), Terrorism: How to Respond (OUP, 2009), Irish Freedom: The History of Nationalism in Ireland (Pan Macmillan, 2006), Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA (Pan Macmillan, 2003), Ernie O'Malley: IRA Intellectual (OUP, 1998), and Radicals and the Republic: Socialist Republicanism in the Irish Free State 1925-1937 (OUP, 1994). He is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, an Honorary Fellow of Keble College Oxford, and an Honorary Professor at the University of St Andrews. Professor English has given invited Lectures on his research in more than twenty countries. In 2018 he was awarded a CBE for services to the understanding of modern day terrorism and political history.
The Irish Legal History Society was deeply saddened to hear of the death of our friend, colleague and former President, Sir Anthony Hart.
Sir Anthony was a founder member and one of the first two Vice-Presidents of the Irish Legal History Society. He served as President from 1991 to 1994, during which period he invested much time and attention in widening the membership of the Society, not least in the United States of America. His service to the Council of the Society continued unbroken until his death. His contribution to the development of the Society was wise, unassuming, influential, and sustained. Through his membership of the Selden Society and his regular attendance at the British Legal History Conferences, he was an enthusiastic source of encouragement to many young legal historians and won many friends for the Irish Legal History Society.
Sir Anthony was awarded the Gold Medal of the Society in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to legal scholarship. The author of A History of the King’s Serjeants at Law in Ireland (2000), and A History of the Bar and Inn of Court of Northern Ireland (2013) he also published papers in the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly and in two volumes in the Society’s collected discourses series.
Throughout his career, his commitment to historical research and to reconciliation was inspiring. In the days to come many tributes will be paid to him for his career as a lawyer and his legacy as a judge as well as his work chairing the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland. At this tragic time, the Society wishes to pay its own tribute to his considerable contribution to the scholarship of legal history and its appreciation across Ireland.
The British Legal History Conference was hosted at St Andrews, Scotland, from 10-13 July 2019. The conference theme was Comparative Legal History.
As always, there was a strong Irish presence among both the papers and the delegates.
Full details about the programme are available here
Recent issues of the Law and History Review have included articles on aspects of Irish Legal History:
- Lynsey Black, “On the other hand the accused is a woman…”: Women and the Death Penalty in Post-Independence Ireland' (2018) 36(1) Law and History Review 139-172 (available here)
- Ciara Molloy, 'The Failure of Feminism? Rape Law Reform in the Republic of Ireland, 1980–2017' (2018) 36(4) Law and History Review 689-71 (available here)
Law and History Review is one of America's leading legal history journals, encompasses American, European, and ancient legal history issues.
January 2019 saw the launch of Patrick Hyde Kelly's edition of William Molyneux’s The Case of Ireland’s Being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England, Stated.
Regarded as the most celebrated Irish political pamphlet published before 1801, William Molyneux’s Case of Ireland, stated (1698) was written to demonstrate that English statutes did not have force in Ireland until they had been re-enacted by the Irish parliament.
The book was launched at Iveagh House on Friday 25 January by Professor Ian MacBride.
The book is available for purchase from Four Courts Press, and is free to members of the Society.
2019 marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which facilitated access to the legal profession for women.
Dr Judith Bourne, ambassador for the First 100 Years Project, spoke at Queen's University Belfast on 8 March to reflect on this historic change and explore the story of Helena Normanton, the first woman to practice as a barrister in England. Normanton was the first woman to be admitted to an Inn of Court after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and was called to the Bar in 1922. Normanton would go on to be one of two first women King's Counsels and one of the few women to maintain a practice at the bar at this time.
Dr Bourne is a Senior Lecturer at St Mary's University, Twickenham.
Judge Liz Goldthorpe delivered the 2019 Spring Discourse on the subject of Averil Deverell BL, the second woman called to the Bar of Ireland and the first to practice in the South. Deverell went down to the Law Library to practise in January 1922, and remained in practice until her retirement in 1969. She was among the first group of women graduates from Trinity College, University of Dublin, obtaining her law degree in 1915. She died in 1979 and in her will left a bequest setting up a lectureship in the Law School of Trinity College.
The Honourable Society of the King's Inns holds an archive of Averil Deverill's papers, details of which can be found here.
The Spring Discourse took place on Friday 22 February at the Law Society of Ireland, and was well-attended.
Regarded as the most celebrated Irish political pamphlet published before 1801, William Molyneux’s Case of Ireland, stated (1698) was written to demonstrate that English statutes did not becomeof force in Ireland until they had been re-enacted by the Irish parliament. For all its fame, The Case’s mass of legal precedents and seemingly contradictory arguments make it a work that requires elucidation for the modern reader. This new edition presents a critical text, based on the manuscripts of The Case in the Trinity College Dublin library, together with explanatory notes, and a re-examination of the historical background and the sources on which Molyneux drew. The arguments in The Case, set out in a form analogous to presenting a legal case in court, are shown to be a significant response to the contemporary pamphlet debate on Irish woollen exports and the legal competence of the Irish house of lords, rather than the stand-alone publication the book has often been treated as.
August 2018. 336pp; ills.
Available free of charge to all members of the Society, or for purchase from Four Courts Press
Patrick Hyde Kelly is a fellow emeritus of Trinity College Dublin. A specialist in the history of political and economic thought in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Ireland and Britain, he has edited Locke on money (2 vols, Oxford, 1991) for The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke.
The University of Edinburgh's Centre for Legal History provides a lively social and scholarly focus for the active research community at the University of Edinburgh and beyond. The University has a long tradition in the field, as the Chair of Civil Law was founded in 1710, with Civil Law taught continuously in the University since then. Major interests pursued are Roman law, the learned laws in the Middle Ages, the history of law in Europe, the history of Scots law, and legal history in Louisiana. The interests of the Centre avoid a narrow focus on law as rules, and research is typically comparative and interdisciplinary, drawing on a wide range of sources.
The Centre organises a number of seminars and lecture programmes:
- The Edinburgh Roman Law Group, founded by the late Professor Peter B. H. Birks when he held the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh, presents a regular and lively programme of speakers on Roman law.
- The Alan Watson Seminar for Legal History, also initiated by Professor Birks, holds interdisciplinary seminars on medieval and early modern law in historical context.
- A more recent initiative is the programme of Ancient Law in Context organised with Ancient History (in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology). This offers an interdisciplinary research network exploring law and economic and social development, bringing together specialists in ancient law and all aspects of ancient history – social, economic, and political.
- The Henry Goudy Seminar meets once a month during term time to discuss works of classical literature.
- Finally, the Centre holds the biennial (sometimes annual) Peter Chiene Lecture, bringing in a distinguished legal historian to speak. From time to time, the Centre also sponsors and organises specialist conferences and seminars, such as those on the medieval ius commune (from casus to regula) and humanism (ad fontes).
- The Centre also holds relaxed social events through the year.
The Centre seeks to engage with the wider community, and does this largely through its blog, the Edinburgh Legal History Blog, which is written by John W. Cairns, Paul J. du Plessis, Guido Rossi, and other members of the Centre.