(Originally published in Volume 1, issue 1 of Law Ireland.)
Older colleagues at the bar have told me of a barrister named Bill Hurley. He was a former Group Captain in the RAF, who saw some action during the second World War. He was legendary for keeping meticulous notes on all legal developments. As a result, Bill Hurley’s notebook became a very valuable resource for unreported judgments.
If Bill Hurley were in practice today, he would face a challenge. In 2016, over 1,200 judgments were delivered by the Irish superior courts. The recent establishment of the Court of Appeal may have assisted in clearing the backlog of appeals, but it has not reduced the number of judgments being delivered. To say the least, this presents a challenge to conscientious lawyers who wish to stay up-to-date with recent developments. Lawyers are presumed to know the law, but to find a relevant authority can be like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Law Ireland now aims to replicate Bill Hurley’s notebook by publishing short reports on all new judgments delivered by the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. This builds on the work of Stare Decisis Hibernia, which has been publishing short reports online since 2011, and now has a searchable database of over 4,000 reports.
The approach of Law Ireland is different from that of official law reports. Publishers of official law reports select the judgments they consider most important, and provide very detailed headnotes. This provides readers with a valuable summary of key decisions, and the relevant law considered. But it has its disadvantages. It can take months or years from the time a judgment is handed down for the official law report to be published. Furthermore, by omitting many judgments, practitioners may not be alerted to important decisions that are relevant to them.
As will be seen from our masthead, Law Ireland publishes “comprehensive, current and clear law reports”. Comprehensive, in that we report every judgments handed down by the superior courts; Current, in that our reports are up-to-date and published within weeks of publication. And clear, in that we write our reports in a manner that should be understandable by lawyers and non-lawyers alike.
This first issue of Law Ireland shows the wide range of topics coming before the superior courts. The Supreme Court has handed down decisions on whether a challenger to a wind farm was precluded from seeking judicial review where she had not participated in the planning process, and whether an “Article 40” inquiry into the lawfulness of detention was appropriate in a case where a child had been taken into care on foot of a District Court order. Most of the Court of Appeal judgments reported in this issue concern criminal sentencing, but they have also addressed the hearsay rule and the issue of a proposed deportee with mental health problems.
In Wall v. National Parks and Wildlife Service, the High Court, in a high-profile case, determined that a hillwalker had not been entitled to damages for injuries she sustained on a raised walkway on the Wicklow Way. The court also refused damages to the victim of an assault in a hostel, and addressed the thorny issue of whether to award costs from the estate in a probate application.
We look forward to hearing feedback from all readers on this and future issues, and we hope that the best traditions of Bill Hurley are being upheld.