Prior to English rule, Ireland had its own indigenous system of law dating from Celtic times, which survived until the 17th century when it was finally supplanted by the English commonlaw. This native system of law, known as the Brehon law, developed from customs which had been passed on orally from one generation to the next. In the 7th century AD the laws were written down for thefirst time. Brehon law was administered by Brehons (or brithem). They were the successors to Celtic druids and while similar to judges; their role was closer to that of an arbitrator. Their task wasto preserve and interpret the law rather than to expand it.
In many respects Brehon law was quite progressive. It recognised divorce and equal rights between the genders and also showed concern forthe environment. In criminal law, offences and penalties were defined in great detail. Restitution rather than punishment was prescribed for wrongdoing. Cases of homicide or bodily injury werepunishable by means of the eric fine, the exact amount determined by a scale. Capital punishment was not among the range of penalties available to the Brehons. The absence of either a court system or apolice force suggests that people had strong respect for the law.
The first encroachment on Brehon law came in 1155, when Pope Adrian IV issued the Bull Laudabiliter endorsing King Henry II's plan toconquer Ireland. This was followed by the Anglo-Norman invasion led by the Earl of Pembroke, Richard de Clare (Strongbow) in 1169. In 1171 King Henry II held a Council (known as the Curia Regis orKing's Council) at Waterford. It declared that "the laws of England were by all freely received and confirmed." This declaration was more aspirational than realistic. English law was initially applied inmost of the province of Leinster, where Henry II had granted feudal land rights to Strongbow. In 1172 Henry appointed Hugh de Lacy as the first Justiciar of Ireland (the king's representative)....
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