Northern Irish law refers to the legal system of statute and common law operating in Northern Ireland since the partition of Ireland established Northern Ireland as a separate jurisdiction within the United Kingdom in 1921. Prior to 1921, Northern Ireland was part of the same legal system as the rest of Ireland.
Northern Ireland is a common law jurisdiction. Although its common law is similar to that in England and Wales, and partially derives from the same sources, there are some important differences in law and procedure between Northern Ireland and England and Wales. While influenced by English law, the Northern Irish legal system is distinctive for a number of reasons: it has roots in Irish common law prior to Irish independence in 1921 and the Acts of Union in 1801. Following the formation of the Irish Free State (which became the Republic of Ireland), Northern Ireland became a devolved legal jurisdiction within the United Kingdom as Ireland had been before 1801.
The current statute law of Northern Ireland comprises those Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that apply to Northern Ireland and Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as statutory instruments made by departments of the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government. Also remaining on the statute books are many Acts of the Parliament of Northern Ireland passed between 1921 and 1972, certain Acts of the Parliament of Ireland made before the Act of Union 1800, and Acts of the Parliament of England, and of the Parliament of Great Britain, extended to Ireland under Poynings' Law between 1494 and 1782.
The expression "Northern Ireland legislation" is defined by statute. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 establishes the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It creates a distinction between excepted matters, reserved matters and other matters (which are transferred i.e. they fall within the NI Assembly's competence). The Northern Ireland Act 1998 functions as a constitution for Northern Ireland as indicated in the Robinson case.
The Northern Ireland Parliament was prorogued in 1972; from then until the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly following the Good Friday Agreement, the primary method of making legislation for Northern Ireland was by means of orders in council under the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972. A number of important legislative measures were adopted using the order in council procedure: this included the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 restricting the right to silence, the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (Northern Ireland) 1998 on religious and political discrimination.
In 1979, there was a severe shortage of textbooks and of works of authority, such as annotated statutes, law reports and rules of court, because the potential readership of any legal work, no matter how general, was so small that publication was not commercially viable. The only periodical dealing with the law of Northern Ireland was the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly (NILQ), a peer-reviewed quarterly journal published since 1936, published at the School of Law at Queen's University Belfast.
According to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University: "There are two main series of law reports for Northern Ireland: the Northern Ireland Law Reports (NI), which began in 1925; and the Northern Ireland Judgments Bulletin (NIJB), previously known as the Blue Books, which was first published in 1970".
Both of the universities offer a range of undergraduate and postgraduate law degrees:
There are specialist research centres in the two universities:
Professional legal education is offered by the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen's University Belfast and the Graduate School for Professional Legal Education at Ulster University.
The 1967 Abortion Act does not apply in Northern Ireland. This situation led the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to take judicial proceedings which led to a decision in 2015 that Northern Ireland's abortion regime violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as it failed to allow for termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or when pregnancy was due to a sexual offence.
As to the mens rea for murder, see section 8 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966.
The following partial defences reduce murder to manslaughter:
See also section 6 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. The common law defence of provocation was abolished and section 7 of that Act repealed by section 56 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
The Infanticide Act (Northern Ireland) 1939 provides a partial defence which reduces murder to infanticide.
The penalty for murder is provided by section 1(1) of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973.
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 abolished blasphemy in England and Wales; this measure did not extend to Northern Ireland.
Historically the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act Northern Ireland 1954 provided special legislative protection for the Union flag. ThThis 1954 Act was repealed by the Public Order (NI) Order 1987.
Participatory offences include aiding, abetting, counselling, or procuring the act of some crime or conspiracy. It also includes being an accomplice to criminal behaviour.
Due to the history of political violence in Northern Ireland, there have been distinctive developments in Northern Irish criminal law and anti-terrorism procedures. These date to the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, commonly called the Special Powers Act. Following the outbreak of violence in the 1960s and 1970s, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 introduced juryless Diplock courts to try terrorism related offences.
The Terrorism Act 2000 retains special provisions for Northern Ireland in respect of anti-terrorism law, and retains the possibility to try certain offences without a jury.
The Defamation Act 2013 does not apply in Northern Ireland. This protections which this Act provides for free expression (e.g. the public interest defence in section 4) do not therefore apply in Northern Ireland.
Northern Irish courts have issued a small number of super-injunctions.
Discrimination law in Northern Ireland has evolved somewhat separately to discrimination law elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Most notably, Northern Irish history of legislation on religious and political discrimination. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 prohibited religious discrimination in legislation. In 1976 the UK Parliament passed the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act which prohibited religious and political discrimination in employment. The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 creates a system to monitor the religious composition of the workforce so as to promote fair participation.
In 1998 the Northern Ireland Act 1998 introduced a statutory duty on designated public authorities to promote equality of opportunity on a number of grounds.
While in some aspects Northern Ireland's equality law has been in advance of developments elsewhere, there are also examples where it is not as progressive. Racial discrimination in Northern Ireland was only prohibited in 1997. The Equality Act 2010 does not apply in Northern Ireland; this means that Northern Ireland's equality legislation is split across a large number of Acts and Orders.