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. For the purposes of private international law, the United Kingdom is divided into three distinct legal jurisdictions: *English law in England and Wales; *Northern Irish law in Northern Ireland; *Scots law in Scotland. 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.


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.

Legal publications

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". The Northern Ireland Statutes Revised are printed editions of NI statutes, revised.

Legal education

Both of the universities offer a range of undergraduate and postgraduate law degrees: * The School of Law at Queen's University of Belfast * Ulster University School of Law There are specialist research centres in the two universities: * Human Rights Centre at Queen's University Belfast * Institute for Criminology and Criminal Justice at Queen's University Belfast * Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University 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.

Criminal law

Criminal offences

Offences against the person

*Child destruction


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.

=Fatal offences

= 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: *loss of control *diminished responsibility *suicide pact 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.

=Sexual Offences


=Non-fatal non-sexual offences


Offences against property

Firearms and offensive weapons

Forgery, personation and cheating

See personation: See cheating: *Offences under Part I of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981

Offences against the State or Crown or Government and political offences

*High treason *Misprision of treason *Compounding treason *Treason felony *Attempting to injure or alarm the Sovereign, contrary to section 2 of the Treason Act 1842 *Offences under the Official Secrets Acts 1911 to 1989 *Offences under the Incitement to Disaffection Act 1934 *Causing disaffection, contrary t
section 68
of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 *Incitement to sedition or disaffection or promoting industrial unrest, contrary t
section 3
of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919 *Offences relating to terrorism *Offences under section 1 of the Unlawful Drilling Act 1819 *Piracy iure gentium *Piracy with violence, contrary to the Piracy Act 1837 *Offences under the Slave Trade Act 1824 *Offences under the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 *Offences under the Immigration Act 1971 *Coinage offences under Part II of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 *Offences relating to public stores under the Public Stores Act 1875 *Offences against postal and electronic communication services *Misconduct in public office *Refusal to execute public office *Offences of selling public offices under the Sale of Offices Act 1551 and Sale of Offices Act 1809 (se
section 1
thereof) *Cheating the public revenue *Offences under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 *Tax evasion and money laundering offences

=Abolished offences

= *Sedition *Seditious libel

Harmful or dangerous drugs

Offences against religion and public worship

*Blasphemy. *Blasphemous libel The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 abolished blasphemy in England and Wales; this measure did not extend to Northern Ireland.

Offences against the administration of public justice

Public order offences

*Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act 1970 (Northern Ireland) *Riot *Affray *Offences under the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. These include Northern Ireland's incitement to hatred laws. In 2013 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission reported, in 'Racist Hate Crime: Human Rights and the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland', that authorities were uncertain about the scope of this legislation. *Justice Act (NI) 2011 proscribes sectarian or indecent chanting at regulated matches 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.

Offences against public morals and public policy

*BigamyAgain this is the label adopted by Archbold

Protection of children and vulnerable adults

Protection of animals and the environment

Road traffic and motor vehicle offences

Participatory offences

Participatory offences include aiding, abetting, counselling, or procuring the act of some crime or conspiracy. It also includes being an accomplice to criminal behaviour.

Defences to crime

*Marital coercion

Criminal Justice

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.

Civil law

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

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.

See also

*Northern Ireland Assembly (1973–1974) (legislative power in 1974 only) *Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service *Attorney General for Northern Ireland *Advocate General for Northern Ireland *Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland *Police Service of Northern Ireland *List of statutory rules of Northern Ireland *Law of Ireland prior to 1921 *Law of the United Kingdom


Further reading

*''Britain's Legal Systems'', Central Office of Information, 1997, *''Criminal Justice Systems in Europe'', Bo Svensson, 1995, *''Law and State: The Case of Northern Ireland'', Kevin Boyle, Tom Hadden and Paddy Hillyard, 1975 *''The Legal System of Northern Ireland'', Brice Dickson, (5th edition) 2005, Belfast: SLS Legal Publications, *Digest of Northern Ireland Law. Second Edition. SLS. Belfast. 1995 onwards. *Desmond Greer and Frederick Boyd. "Northern Ireland". In Twining and Uglow. Law Publishing and Legal Information. 1981. pp 83 – 116. *Company law of Northern Ireland: Report of the Committee, under the Chairmanship of Donald Murray QC
Snippet view
*Legal Aid: Final Report of the Law Society of Northern Ireland for the Period 1 April 2003 to 31 October 2003
*Comerton. A Handbook on the Magistrates' Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1964
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*Calvert. Constitutional Law in Northern Ireland: A Study in Regional Government
Snippet view

External links

The judicial system in Northern Ireland
by Directgov
PDF – Northern Ireland law – Law Library Guide
Queen's University, Belfast
British and Irish Legal Information Institutelegal-island.comLaw Centre (NI)Library Guide
Queen's University Belfast. {{DEFAULTSORT:Northern Ireland Law