The Supreme Court of Ireland (Cúirt Uachtarach na hÉireann) is an important institution in Irish government and politics. Unlike its UK equivalent, the Irish Supreme Court has long held the explicit power to nullify parliamentary legislation that it finds repugnant to the Irish Constitution. In the 1960s, the Court became increasingly assertive, and since then it has been heavily involved in issues of public controversy including abortion, contraception, and criminal justice. Nevertheless, the Irish Supreme Court is not well understood beyond a narrow sphere of lawyers who come into direct contact with it.
One of the great virtues of legal blogs is that, in tandem with the traditional media, they can help to open up the workings of legal systems to wider audiences. Court blogs like UKSC Blog and SCOTUS Blog are terrific resources for understanding their respective Supreme Courts, and every Supreme Court should have (at least) one. But when I returned to live in my native Ireland last year after several years in the United Kingdom and the United States, I found that there was no equivalent for the Irish Supreme Court. I thought that was a shame, and I set about remedying the gap. Ex Tempore is the result.
I hope that many UKSC Blog readers will subscribe to Ex Tempore, or at least take a look once in a while. A couple of weeks in, there’s already plenty to interest the UK lawyer. The legal systems of Ireland and the UK, for example, come into direct contact in extradition cases. In a recent Irish Supreme Court case, English prosecutors successfully overcame a double jeopardy argument and procured the extradition of a previously-acquitted defendant to the UK for a second prosecution. And my first guest poster, Tom O’Malley, has engaged in a sustained comparative analysis of English and Irish drugs sentencing law.
More broadly, as common-law courts in Europe, the Supreme Courts of Ireland and the United Kingdom face a whole series of common questions and problems. Both courts effectively share authority with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the European Court of Human Rights. Relationships with Strasbourg loom large at the moment; just as the UK is required to give at least some prisoners the right to vote, Ireland will have to respond to December’s ruling that Irish abortion laws violate the Convention on Human Rights. In the future, as the European Union gains further competences beyond the economic sphere, the scope of the ECJ’s authority is likely to raise even deeper questions about the role of national courts. In this climate, it’s all the more important that legal blogs like UKSC Blog and Ex Tempore provide broader perspectives, including transnational ones, on judicial decisions.