The Irish Bar

Aims and objectives

The Irish Bar provides its clients with the highest level of expertise in all areas of law through skilled advocacy (pleading a case) by professionals of integrity and independence.

Historical background

Barristers have been practising in Ireland for at least 450 years. In 1541 The Honorable Society of King's Inns was established when a lease was granted by Henry VIII for the use of Blackfriars monastery (now the location of the Four Courts). The Society was moved to its present location on Constitution Hill in 1800

The benchers of the Honorable Society of King's Inns (benchers include all the judges of the Supreme and High Courts and a number of elected barristers) admit candidates to the degree of Barrister-at-Law. They may then be called to the Irish Bar by the Chief Justice. Barristers are subject to the professional standards set by the Bar Council.

The Irish legal system is based on the common law, which originated in England. This type of system attaches great significance to judge-made law. A decision in one case is legally binding on all subsequent cases with similar facts unless it is reversed by a higher court or on appeal. Other sources of law in Ireland include the Constitution, Acts of the Oireachtas (statutes) and the law of the European Communities.

Under the Irish justice system, court hearings in contested cases are conducted in an adversarial manner. This means that each side presents its case and seeks to challenge that of its opponents through the evidence of its own witnesses, cross-examination and legal argument.

Number of barristers and geographic distribution

As of September 2012, there were 2,199 members of the Law Library, of which 1,878 were practising Junior Counsel and 321 were Senior Counsel.
Most barristers practise in Dublin, but approximately 106 practise in Cork and 191 in the rest of the country.

Specialisation is common amongst barristers, especially those practising in Dublin. This means that the Irish Bar can provide its clients with a skilled legal service in every area of Irish law, European Community law and public international law in all Irish Courts and in the European Courts in Luxembourg – no matter what part of the country the court is sitting in and no matter what day or time of the year is involved.

The leader of the Irish Bar is the Attorney General who is the legal advisor to the Government. The Irish Bar is broadly based. Approximately 60% are male and 40% female. A number of different nationalities and religious beliefs are represented. Many barristers have formerly been members of other professions (for example doctors or government officials).


Ireland is divided into circuits. Barristers are attached to certain circuits although they are not confined to practise on such circuits. The circuits are the:

  • Munster circuit – which in practice is divided into the Cork circuit, the South Western circuit and the South Eastern circuit;
  • Northern circuit;
  • Western circuit;
  •  Midlands circuit;
  • Eastern circuit; and
  • Dublin circuit.

Access to barristers

Barristers do not handle clients’ funds; provide safe custody of original documents; or provide the normal administrative services which a client would expect from a firm of solicitors.

Instead, a barrister specialises in providing an advisory and, or, advocacy service for which he is ‘briefed’ by a solicitor or other body that has Direct Professional Access (DPA).

The great advantage of this system is that no barrister is employed by any firm of solicitors, any department of government or any professional body. Any firm of solicitors from the largest international law firm to a sole practitioner practising from a remote area of the country can retain the most eminent barrister to represent their client.

Indeed, the independence of the Irish Bar is something on which its members have long prided themselves. Barristers will act for the Government one day and against the Government the next. The only restrictions on a barrister’s ability to act are the Code of Conduct and availability to carry out the work.

Under the Irish system the client, through his solicitor or the body having direct professional access can put together a legal team which is best suited to any particular task. As a result, the client has the greatest level of choice in a market which is highly competitive.

Public service

Barristers have a strong tradition of public service. Many barristers have been members of Dáil and Seanad Éireann. The Attorney General is always a member of the Bar. Senior Judges are generally appointed from the ranks of members of the Bar. A large amount of pro bono (free of charge) work is conducted daily by barristers for clients who would otherwise be unable to afford those services.

Senior Counsel

Senior Counsel (known as “silks”) are the senior branch of the profession. They are appointed by the Government from the ranks of Junior Counsel. It is a mark of eminence to be appointed Senior Counsel. Senior Counsel are expected to be extensively experienced in the practice of law over many years and to bring a high level of legal knowledge, skill and judgment to any task in which they are professionally engaged.


There is a strong relationship of trust and respect between the Bar and the solicitors' profession based on the experience that each has for the high standards of the other. This traditional relationship allows barristers and solicitors to give their client the very highest standards of advice and representation. It also enables the justice system and the courts to have trust in the standards observed by the members of the legal profession appearing before them.

18th Century to Today
History of the barrister's profession in Ireland.

Introduction to the Irish Courts System  
Includes diagram and glossary of terms.
Click here