Fiona Carroll: Law Reform Commission’s work is revealing snapshots of history
Fiona Carroll of the Law Reform Commission explains the body’s work to repeal obsolete pre-1922 legislation.
When the State was founded, it inherited tens of thousands of pre-1922 legislation, both Acts and Statutory Instruments. Much of this law was obsolete but remained officially in force, and the Statute Law Revision Programme (SLRP) was initiated to provide clarity for users of statute law.
Between 2005 and 2016, the SLRP has been responsible for the research and drafting of 6 comprehensive Statute Law Revision Acts, which were welcomed as part the State’s responsibility to repeal and revoke this obsolete legislation. This has resulted in the repeal of the vast majority of the pre-1922 Acts, and has left us with a definitive list (now) of just over 1,000 pre-1922 Acts that have been retained in force.
In relation to Statutory Instruments, the SLRP examined pre-1922 instruments up to and including 1820. The Statute Law Revision Act 2015 formally revoked many thousands of these and retained in force just 43 that remain relevant.
The Law Reform Commission, with the support of the Office of the Attorney General, has now assumed responsibility for the SLRP. It intends to complete the work on all pre-1922 statutory instruments by 2022, to coincide with the centenary of the State. The current project picks up from the 1821 timeline, and involves the examination of thousands more instruments covering the period from 1 January 1821 right through to 1922. Completing the pre-1922 SLRP will provide a level of clarity for secondary legislation similar to that already achieved for primary legislation in previous Statute Law Revision Acts.
The SLRP has already delivered a definitive list of pre-1922 Acts that remain in force, nearly all of which are available online on the electronic Irish Statute Book (eISB). The Commission’s goal is that all secondary legislation identified in the remaining stages of the SLRP that are suitable to be retained in force should be digitised, and made available to the eISB. The State will then have a complete list of all in-force legislation, both primary and secondary, in Ireland, and it will be accessible online. This will reinforce the status of the eISB as the principal online repository of legislation in the State.
In the Law Reform Commission’s current SLRP work, layers of history are being slowly peeled away to reveal snapshots of life and society as it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Proclamations for apprehending murderers and arsonists abound, clearly obsolete but still, technically, on the statute book and needing to be swept away. Other instruments likely to be revoked, but of clear significance in our legal and political history, include the instruments made under the Lighting of Towns (Ireland) Act 1828. These put in place a new framework for local government throughout Ireland, from Skibbereen to Ballymahon, allowing urban bodies to elect bodies of commissioners to make local decisions. The Commission has also identified some instruments that are still in force and will be retained, but the Commission is unlikely to recommend the retention of a proclamation dating from the 1840s preventing the sale of wine, chocolate or coffee on Sundays.
- Fiona Carroll is a solicitor and project manager for the Law Reform Commission’s Statute Law Revision Project.