The Bar of Ireland is the regulatory and representative body for barristers practising law in the Republic of Ireland, active since 1897. The General Council of the Bar of Ireland is composed of twenty-five members: twenty who are elected, four co-opted, and the Attorney-General, who holds office ex officio. Every year ten members are elected for two-year terms, five by senior counsel and five by junior counsel.
The Bar of Ireland funds the Law Library, which has premises in Dublin in the Four Courts, Church Street, and the Criminal Courts of Justice, and also a smaller library in Cork. Nearly all barristers practicing in Ireland are members of the Law Library 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 the physical premises of the Law Library.
Of the thirteen 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 European 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, the 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 early nineteenth century, Daniel O'Connell, was one of the most distinguished barristers of his day. Robert Emmet, the 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 John FitzGibbon, 1st 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. In December 2006, the Competition Authority produced a detailed report outlining and highlighting self-regulating procedures created and enforced by The Bar of Ireland. 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.
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."
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".
The "Law Library" predates the creation of the Bar of Ireland of Ireland by up to 100 years. It 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 in the main hall of the Four Courts to attract clients. Today, the main Law Library extends to a suite of rooms behind the Four Courts building, owned and maintained by the Office of Public Works, with two large stand-alone buildings on nearby Church Street, and a small law library in Cork city, owned by Law Library Properties Ltd, a private company. Today, the Office of Public Works and the Bar Council of Ireland fund the various Law Library premises; but as the Bar Council is an unincorporated association, and cannot own property, it relies on some of its barrister-members to act on its behalf as directors of Law Library Properties Ltd.
Until 1885, all intending Irish barristers were obliged to "keep terms" in one of the English Inns of Court before being called to the Irish Bar and being entitled to practise as barristers in Ireland. Following on from these close historical links to the English Bar, for much of the nineteenth century it appeared that a system of barristers' chambers would develop in Ireland. Initially, the benchers of the King's Inns made plans to build chambers for Irish barristers, in the vicinity of Dublin's Henrietta Street. From about 1793, the benchers went so far as to decide to have chambers built, funded 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. However, despite this levying of the profession, following practical objections raised by the architect James Gandon concerning the difficulty of building the main King's Inns building at the same time as private chambers, the barristers' chambers were never built, and the idea of chambers for Irish barristers has languished to the present day.
The Government of Ireland, 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. The effect of this is to designate a barrister as a senior counsel, a recognition of advanced professional ability which can be a step towards appointment as a judge and which also generally means that the barrister can command higher fees. Barristers who have not been recognized in this way are "junior counsel". Senior counsel wear a silk gown which differs from the plainer gown of junior counsel. The wig like those worn in England and Wales is now optional.
The Irish Free State became independent in 1922 as a Dominion. Shortly after the Courts of Justice Act 1924 came into effect, Chief Justice Hugh Kennedy agreed with the Bar Council of Ireland to change the procedure for issuing patents of precedence. From July 1924, the term "King's Counsel" was replaced on Irish patents by "Senior Counsel"; which were issued by the Chief Justice, although the "privilege of patent" continued to fall within the royal prerogative until transferred to the Executive Council of the Irish Free State (the government) by the Executive Powers (Consequential Provisions) Act 1937. However, the title "King's Counsel" continued to be used by many senior counsel, whether created before July 1924 or after. As late as the 1960s, R. G. L. Leonard was described in the official Irish law reports as "Queen's Counsel", reflecting the change from King to Queen in 1952.
In 1949, shortly before the coming into force of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 which broke the final link with the Crown, Frank Aiken asked John A. Costello in Dáil Éireann "whether, in view of the fact that certain members of the Inner Bar who received their patents as senior counsel continue to describe themselves as king's counsel, he will introduce a Bill entitled an Act to declare that the description of a senior counsel shall be senior counsel"; however, Costello said he had "no intention of wasting public time and money" on this.
On 13 June 2000, Jan O'Sullivan asked in the Dáil:
"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."
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 that the Government had "no plans to change the procedures for the granting of patents of precedence."
In 2009, the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes said that it had looked at the difference in the level of legal fees payable to junior and senior counsel.
The Bar of Ireland does not have a statutory basis, but given the importance of its role it has been included in this Report.