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Basic Facts about the Country

Membership of the European Union

1 January 1973

Membership of the Council of Europe

5 May 1949

Entry into force of the European Convention on Human Rights

3 September 1953

Basic Facts about the Judiciary

Budget per inhabitant

Number of professional judges per 100,000 inhabitants


Tiers in the ordinary court system


District Courts


Circuit Courts


High Court


Court of Appeal


Supreme Court


Special Criminal Courts


Labour Court


Constitutional Court


While Ireland does not have a constitutional court, the courts are empowered to interpret and uphold the Constitution.


Part of the judicial branch. The attorney general is the legal adviser to the government.

Gender breakdown of judges

All instances


Supreme court

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Judicial Governance

Type of governance system

Court service model

Courts Service

  • The Court Service Board considers and determines policy for the Courts Service and oversees its implementation by the chief executive officer. The Board consists of court presidents and ordinary judges elected by judges from among themselves, practicing lawyers, three members nominated by the minister of justice, including a civil servant from the Department of Justice, one person representing consumers of court services, and one with relevant knowledge and experience in commerce, finance or administration, and, finally, a person nominated by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
  • The chief executive officer is in charge of the day-to-day management of the Courts Service.For more information about the Court Service, see: The Courts Service of Ireland

Judicial Council

  • Established in 2019.
  • Its members are all of the judges in Ireland.
  • The Judicial Council has a board that performs its functions on its behalf. The Board is comprised of 11 members, all judges: The Chief Justice and each of the four presidents; one judge elected by and from the judges of each of the five jurisdictions, and one additional judge co-opted by the Board.
  • The Council’s functions are to promote and maintain respect for the independence of and public confidence in the judiciary; the efficient and effective use of resources made available to judges; the continuing education of judges; a high standard of conduct among judges, consistent with judicial independence, integrity, propriety, competence, and diligence; and equality of treatment for all persons before the courts.
  • Several committees are or will be set up for specific areas of work – the Judicial Studies Committee, the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee, the Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee, and the Judicial Conduct Committee.  
  • The Council also establishes Judicial Support Committees for each of the five jurisdictions. The function of a Judicial Support Committee is to advise and assist the Council in the performance of its functions under the Judicial Council Act regarding matters relevant to that jurisdiction
  • For more information about the Council, see

Judicial Conduct Committee (of the Judicial Council)

  • Thirteen members, eight judges and five lay members.

Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB)

The Board consists of 11 members, including the chief justice (who is also a chairperson of the board) and four court presidents, the attorney general, a representative of both the Bar Council and of the Law Society, and no more than three lay members, who are appointed by the Minister of Justice.

Distribution of Responsibility

Courts Service
  • Manages the courts
  • Provides support services for the judges
  • Provides information on the courts system to the public,
  • Manages and maintains court buildings, and provides facilities for users of the courts
Judicial Council
  • Promotes and maintains public confidence in the judiciary and the administration of justice
  • Considers complaints in relation to judicial misconduct
  • Ensures the continuous education and training of judges
  • Drafts guidelines on certain issues, including personal injuries’ damages
Judicial Conduct Committee (under the Judicial Council)
  • Examines complaints about alleged judicial misconduct, and refers them either for resolution by informal means (if the complainant and the judge in question agree) or establishes a Panel of Inquiry to investigate the complaint. The Panel consists of a judge from the same court as the judge against whom the complaint has been made, a judge from a different jurisdiction, and a lay member appointed by the government.
  • May refer the matter for investigation by a Panel of Inquiry, even in the absence of complaint about a judge’s conduct
  • Determines whether the complaint is substantiated, and issues a reprimand
Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB)
  • Tasked with the selection of suitable candidates for appointments (the president of Ireland, acting on the advice of the government, formally appoints candidates proposed by the Board). The government is obliged to first consider the persons recommended by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, but is not limited to the candidates the board proposes.
Minister of Justice
  • When a judicial vacancy arises, the minister requests a list of suitable candidates for appointment and of all those who applied for the position from the Judicial Appointments Board (JAAB).
  • The minister considers the JAAB recommendations (if any), all expressions of interest, and all judges eligible for appointment to the vacant position.
  • The minister then sends a nomination to the government and, following a government decision, arrangements are made for appointment by the president.
  • Judicial appointments are made by the president, acting on the advice of the government.
  • In advising the president in relation to the appointment, the government first considers for appointment those persons whose names have been recommended to the Minister


Discretionary powers of the political actors as regards judicial careers

In Ireland, the current system of judicial appointments leaves room for governmental abuse of its discretion in appointing judges. At the moment, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB), chaired by the chief justice, receives and comments on applications for judicial office from outside the judiciary, but leaves appointments to the political discretion of the government. Promotions of existing judges are outside the JAAB’s competence.

A reform has been under way to limit the risks of governmental abuse of discretionary powers and politicisation of the judiciary. The proposal, presented first in 2020, envisages replacing the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board with a nine-member Judicial Appointments Commission. Under this draft law, the Commission would accept applications from not only the first-time appointees (like its predecessor, the JAAB), but also serving judges that seek promotion to higher courts. Judges would be appointed from a shortlist of three drawn up by the Commission (or five names for two vacancies and seven names for three). The government would only consider candidates recommended by the Commission.

Irish civil society organisations (CSOs) reported that the proposal of a separate process for appointing court presidents with a heavy government involvement has been dropped, following their negative feedback. This means these high-level positions will be filled in the same way as those of ordinary judges. CSOs also welcomed the requirement for all candidates to undergo judicial training or continuous professional development.

Concerns remain, however, regarding the composition of the Commission. According to the proposed law, the Commission will be chaired by the chief justice and have three judge members and four lay (non-judge, non-lawyer) members (hence, an equal number of lay and judge members – overall eight), as well as the attorney general, in a non-voting capacity. This new bill is better than its predecessor, from 2017, which envisaged a lay majority and chair, in clear contradiction with the European standards, which call for a judicial majority. In its 2022 Annual Rule of Law Report, the Commission urged Ireland to ensure that the composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission is in line with the European standards and, hence, has a majority of judge members, elected by their peers. The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) also highlighted the desirability of a judicial majority in the Commission. The chief justice said that “the significant dilution” of the judicial component, coupled with the complete exclusion of practicing lawyers, would potentially weaken the process. Observers, including CSOs, have expressed concerns due to the presence of the attorney general, even if in a non-voting capacity, due to the influence the latter would have. Since these concerns have not been addressed, the European Commission marked Ireland’s performance as “no progress”, and reiterated the recommendation.

Some academics do not view the lack of a judicial majority as particularly problematic in the Irish context, stressing that judicial appointment bodies in common law countries rarely have a judicial majority, and even 50 per cent representation under the proposed law would be higher compared to similar appointment bodies in other common law countries. It is also worth keeping in mind that judges typically enjoy considerable influence on appointments, even if they are in the minority, mainly because they know the system, likely candidates, and the law much better than the lay members of such bodies.

Another concern for GRECO was that, under the proposed law, the government would still receive the list of candidates without any ranking, which could lead to politicised decisions. GRECO recommended a targeted shortlist of only the very best candidates ranked, in order of preference.

CSOs highlighted a number of other suggestions that were not picked up and integrated. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) recommended improving the procedure by not only requiring that the Judicial Appointments Commission rank the names sent to the minister in order of preference (as in GRECO’s recommendation), but also requiring the minister to give reasons where there is a divergence from the recommendation given by the Commission. This recommendation was not accepted, however. The ICCL also recommended that judges sitting on the commission be selected by their peers, to avoid a small number of senior judges having disproportionate influence.

On 13 October 2023, President Michael D Higgins decided to refer the proposed legislation on judicial appointments to the Supreme Court for a decision on its constitutionality. A key provision in the bill stipulates that the new commission will recommend three candidates for a judicial vacancy and the Government can only select from the list. This particular aspect has raised concerns among critics who argue that the legislation limits the government’s discretion in nominating judges. Under the Constitution, the Supreme Court has 60 days to hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of the bill and give its decision.

Academics offering insights on the Court’s decision assert that restricting the government’s freedom of choice does not render the bill unconstitutional and that the government’s inability to choose a candidate not on the commission’s list serves to protect the reputation and perceived neutrality of the judiciary. Academics point out that the obligation to choose the candidate from the list still raises concerns, as the government may be compelled to choose a candidate it deems unfit for office. However, they insist that the bill does not explicitly require the government to choose from the proposed candidates – it could simply decline candidates and request the Commission to re-advertise the position. This interpretation, they argue, make the restriction on the government’s power to choose judges constitutionally permissible control.

Aside from political involvement in judicial appointments, the European Commission expressed concerns about the parliament’s being in charge of deciding to remove judges from office. This, according to the Commission, could give rise to politicisation of the process, even if it has not happened in practice before.

Barriers for access to courts

CSOs have reported that the civil legal aid system is very restrictive, and requires that applicants have a disposable income of less than EUR 18,000 per year. The government has established an Independent Group to review the current scheme’s flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of beneficiaries of the civil legal aid, as well as the current operation of the scheme and how it relates to other forms of public legal assistance.

High costs of litigation continue to pose barriers as well. According to CSOs, accessibility can be a concern, for example, for prisoners who wish to challenge conditions in prison, or those experiencing discrimination due to mental health issues.

In its 2022 report, the Commission urged Ireland to “continue actions aimed at reducing litigation costs to ensure effective access to justice, taking into account European standards on disproportionate costs of litigation and their impact on access to courts”. The Commission concluded in its 2023 Report that Ireland had made no progress in this area, and reiterated the recommendation.

Under-resourced judiciary

According to the 2023 EU Justice Scoreboard, Ireland remains the EU Member State with the lowest number of judges per inhabitant. A Judicial Planning Working Group recommended increasing the number of judges by 44 by the end of 2024. The Group’s report also recommended ensuring that adequate resources, in terms of support staff, are provided to the Court Service. Following the publication of the report, the government announced the appointment of 24 new judges in 2023 (representing a 14 per cent increase in the number of judges in the Irish legal system), with the appointment of 20 additional new judges to follow the implementation of further reforms.

Slow proceedings

Data from the Irish Courts Service indicates an increase in the average length of proceedings for different categories of cases for most courts for 2021, including the Supreme Court, where the average length of proceedings has increased significantly, and remains very high.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found Ireland in violation of Articles 6 (1) and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (first in 2010, in the McFarlane judgement, and most recently in the Keaney judgment, adopted in 2020), due to (1) the excessive length of criminal and civil proceedings, and (2) the lack of an effective remedy (the possibility of gaining compensation) in the case of major delays in proceedings. Hence, the problem is substantive as well as procedural. In addressing the substantive problem of slow proceedings in its September 2022 decision, the Committee of Ministers, the body in charge of supervising the implementation of ECtHR judgments, acknowledged Ireland’s efforts, including measures taken to improve the waiting times, but stressed that delays still continue. As regards the procedural dimension, the Committee reiterated its profound concern that the authorities had still not established an effective remedy for the excessive length of proceedings, despite the passage of almost 19 years since the Court first established the violation of Article 13 of the Convention. It acknowledged some efforts at introducing a remedy through legislative reform, and asked the authorities to complete it without further delay.

In order to fulfil long-standing obligations, in February 2023 the government tabled a draft law establishing a compensation scheme for cases of court proceedings of excessive length. The draft law provides for the establishment of an independent process to assess claims for breaches of the right to the conclusion of proceedings within a reasonable time and, where appropriate, an award of compensation.

Rankings and Surveys

Expert Recommendations

European Commission Rule of Law Report, 2023

Overall, concerning the recommendations in the 2022 Rule of Law Report, Ireland has made:

  • No progress on ensuring that the reform of the appointment and promotion of judges, as regards the composition of the Judicial Appointment Commission, is taking into account European standards on judicial appointments, as no significant changes have been introduced to the envisaged composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission.
  • No progress on actions aimed at reducing litigation costs to ensure effective access to justice, taking into account European standards on disproportionate costs of litigation and their impact on access to courts.


On this basis, and considering other developments that took place in the period of reference, it is recommended to Ireland to:

  • Ensure that the reform of the appointment and promotion of judges, as regards the composition of the Judicial Appointment Commission, is taking into account European standards on judicial appointments.
  • Continue actions aimed at reducing litigation costs to ensure effective access to justice, taking into account European standards on disproportionate costs of litigation and their impact on access to courts.
GRECO, Fourth Evaluation Round, Second Compliance Report, Corruption Prevention,2022

Adopted by GRECO at its 90th Plenary Meeting (Strasbourg, 21-25 March 2022)


  • 16. GRECO recommended that the current system for selection, recruitment, promotion and transfers of judges be reviewed with a view to target the appointments to the most qualified and suitable candidates in a transparent way, without improper influence from the executive/political powers;
  • 21. GRECO recommended that an appropriate structure be established within the framework of which questions concerning constitutional safeguards of the judiciary in connection with employment conditions are to be examined – in close dialogue with judicial representatives – with a view to maintain the high levels of judicial integrity and professional quality in the future;
  • 27. GRECO recommended (i) that a code of conduct for judges be formally established, including guidance and confidential counselling in respect of conflicts of interest and other integrity related matters (gifts, recusal, third party contacts and handling of confidential information etc.) and (ii) connect such an instrument to an accountability mechanism;
  • 32. GRECO recommended that dedicated induction and in-service training for judges be institutionalised and adequately resourced while respecting the independence of the judiciary.
Liberties, Key recommendations, 2023
  • Complete a comprehensive review of the legal aid system, which should include, inter alia, provision for an enhanced civil legal aid system, and a large-scale study of unmet legal needs in Ireland.
  • Complete the review of the Offences Against the State Act, abolish the Special Criminal Court and ensure that all courts comply with constitutional and international fair trial standards.
  • Increase overall levels of investment and systems of appointment in the Irish courts/justice system to ensure that the system is accessible, accommodative, time efficient, and meets international best practice standards.

Compliance with European Courts' Judgements

Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)

State Performance


Number of unimplemented CJEU rulings related to the judiciary

European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

State Performance


Implementation record


(5% of total)

Number of leading judgments pending implementation Very Low

50 %

Percentage of leading judgements from the last 10 years still pending implementation High



Average time leading judgments have been pending implementation Very High
Non-Implementation of European Courts Judgments and the Rule of Law | EIN & DRI

Judgements with pending implementation

Selected on relevance to the judiciary / rule of law

O’Keeffe v Ireland,


The case concerns the responsibility of the Irish State for the sexual abuse of the applicant, aged nine, by a lay teacher, LH, in a National School in 1973. A prior complaint of sexual abuse by another pupil against the same teacher had been made to the school manager and not acted upon at the time.

The Court found that the Irish State had failed to meet its obligation to protect the applicant from sexual abuse in the 1970s because it had entrusted the management of primary education to non-state actors (National Schools), without putting in place any mechanism of effective state control against the risks of such abuse. On the contrary, at the time, potential complainants had been directed away from the State authorities and towards managers of the National Schools (generally the local priests) (substantive violation of Article 3). The Court also found that none of the domestic remedies were effective as regards the applicant’s complaint about the Irish State’s failure to protect her from abuse (violation of Article 13, in conjunction with the substantive aspect of Article 3).

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Macfarlane v Ireland,


This case concerns the excessive length of both criminal and civil proceedings and the lack of an effective remedy for these problems (violations of Articles 6 § 1 and 13).

At its 1443rd CMDH meeting (20-22 September 2022), in addressing the problem of excessive length of proceedings, the Committee of Ministers acknowledged the measures taken to reduce waiting times, expressed regret that delays still continued and encouraged the authorities to continue their work to improve the efficiency of courts. Regarding the absence of effective remedies for lengthy proceedings, the Committee expressed profound concern that the authorities have not established an effective remedy despite the passage of almost 19 years since the Court first established a violation of Article 13. The Committee acknowledged a constitutional remedy for delay elaborated in the Supreme Court judgment, but considered that this remedy may still require some further clarifications. It also welcomed the initiative to establish a legislative remedy and urged the authorities to make finalising the legislation a priority.

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