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We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. You can find out more or opt-out from some cookies. The Human Rights Act says all courts in the UK must apply the law in a way which respects your human rights, as far as this is possible. Read this page to find out more about how the courts apply the law so it doesn't breach your human rights.

All courts in the UK must interpret and give effect to the law in a way which is as close to the Human Rights Act as possible.

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Courts must do this in all cases they deal with. This includes cases against a public authority as well as cases between individuals. In this case, the courts may have to apply it anyway even if it breaches your human rights. Parliament is responsible for making the laws in the UK. When Parliament makes laws it doesn't have to follow the Human Rights Act.

This means it can make laws which go against or are incompatible with the Human Rights Act. Laws made by Parliament are called Acts of Parliament. The courts must apply Acts of Parliament even if they breach your human rights.

But some courts, like the Court of Appeal, can say that the law is incompatible with the Human Rights Act. This is called a declaration of incompatibility. But it may mean that the law is changed in the future. A law which said a deceased father's details were not allowed to be entered on his child's birth certificate was declared incompatible with the right to respect for family and private life under article 8. A law which gave the power to the Secretary of State for the Home Department to set the minimum period that must be served by a mandatory life sentence prisoner was declared incompatible with the right to a fair trial under article 6.

Many Acts made by Parliament and the national Assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland give the authority, usually to Ministers, to make laws which are called delegated or secondary legislation. Regulations and orders are examples of secondary legislation. Some laws are made by the courts, this is called the common law. Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer. Top links Housing benefit. Work Rights at work Leaving a job Problems at work Discrimination at work Check your rights at work if you're under 18 Health and safety at work.

In the wake of the industrial revolution and the influential writings of Bentham and Mill, the urgency for reform of legal institutions became increasingly apparent. Reforms were introduced by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, and its Irish counterpart in These Acts merged the administration of common law and equity to create a unified court system. The Supreme Court of Judicature was established, consisting of the High Court of Justice, which had original jurisdiction as well as appellate jurisdiction from courts of local jurisdiction, and the Court of Appeal, which had appellate jurisdiction.

The various courts which had developed over the centuries such as the Court of Exchequer and the Court of Probate were subsumed into separate divisions of the High Court. In addition to these superior courts, there were a number of inferior courts. The court of assize was the antecedent to the High Court.


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It dealt with the most important civil and criminal matters. The most serious criminal offences, such as murder and treason were reserved to the court of assize. It sat on circuit twice a year. Justices of the Peace dealt with less serious criminal matters. They could exercise their primary criminal jurisdiction, either summarily at petty sessions, or on indictment, where the justices presided with a jury at quarter sessions.

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They also conducted preliminary hearings for the assizes at petty sessions. If the Justice of the Peace found that there was prima facie evidence to send the accused forward for trial, a 'bill of indictment' was referred to a Grand Jury to decide if the bill was correct in form and was supported by the prima facie evidence. If the Grand Jury so found, the bill of indictment became an indictment and the accused was tried by Petty Jury at the assizes.

On the civil side, the county court dealt with less serious matters than the assizes. Claims were initiated by means of a civil bill, in contrast to the procedure of their English counterparts. This remains the basis for many claims initiated in the county court's successor, the Circuit Court. Following the Irish Famine , the campaign for land law reform became the focal point in Irish politics.

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The intensive campaigning of the Land League led to the passing of the Land Law Ireland Act, , which established the Irish Land Commission and granted Irish tenant farmers the three Fs - fair rent, freedom of sale and fixity of tenure. Subsequent Acts established land purchase schemes, whereby tenants could obtain long term loans at reduced interest to purchase the freehold title to their land.


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  • Despite these important reforms, calls for the repeal of the Act of Union amplified. Home rule was the initial objective of Irish nationalists. However, the trenchant opposition of Ulster Unionists and Conservatives meant that home rule was not possible until the passing of the Government of Ireland Act, The Act was postponed for the duration of World War I but was in any case overtaken by subsequent events.

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    British attempts to suppress what it regarded as a seditious association were met with armed nationalist resistance in the War of Independence. In an effort to resolve the Irish question, Westminster passed the Government of Ireland Act, , which partitioned Ireland into Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, each with its own parliament.

    Both parliaments would be ultimately subject to the English Parliament and would be required to send some members to sit in Westminster. The Act reorganised the court system in each jurisdiction to comprise a High Court and Court of Appeal, as well as a High Court of Appeal for Ireland to hear appeals from the respective Courts of Appeal. Elections for the new parliaments were held in May It won of the seats to what in the terms of the Act - was the House of Commons of Southern Ireland.

    In Northern Ireland the Act had been accepted and its parliament was opened in June A truce with Britain was agreed in July , followed by peace negotiations which resulted in the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6th December It provided for the establishment of the Irish Free State, the possibility of a unified Ireland, albeit with an opt-out clause for Northern Ireland. It would have dominion status within the British Commonwealth, the Crown would be retained as head of state, represented by a Governor General, and members of the Oireachtas would be required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown.

    Northern Ireland duly opted out of a united Ireland. The Constitution enshrined the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. On the judicial side, a Supreme Court, High Court and courts of local and limited jurisdiction were established. The latter comprised the Parish Court, which dealt with the most minor civil and criminal matters, the District Court, which dealt with more serious civil and criminal matters and which heard appeals from the Parish Court, a Circuit Court composed of four circuits, with unlimited civil and criminal jurisdiction and a Supreme Court, operating as both a court of first instance and an appellate court.

    While successfully suppressed by the British in Dublin, these courts operated with some success elsewhere. In January the Judiciary Committee, chaired by former Lord Chancellor Lord Glenavy, was appointed to advise the Executive Council Cabinet on the establishment of a new court system.

    It created a District Court to replace the court of petty sessions and the Justice of the Peace. The Justices of the District Court were professional judges and had jurisdiction over minor civil and criminal matters.