WRC Can Dis-apply Irish Law To Ensure Effectiveness Of EU Law

Author:Mr Kevin Langford, Deborah Delahunt and Louise O'Byrne
Profession:Arthur Cox

Earlier this year, the Court of Justice of the EU (the "CJEU") ruled that decision-making bodies such as the Workplace Relations Commission can disregard domestic Irish law in making their decision, if they find the domestic legislation to be incompatible with EU law.

The CJEU held that all State organs, regardless of their jurisdiction or status in national law, must be able to adopt all measures necessary to ensure the full effectiveness of EU law.

The decision raises issues of immense importance in Ireland given the Constitutional limitation of jurisdiction on courts and decision-making bodies contained in Article 34(3) of the Constitution which expressly provides that:

"1° The Courts of First Instance shall include a High Court invested with full original jurisdiction in and power to determine all matters and questions whether of law or fact, civil or criminal. 2° Save as otherwise provided by this Article, the jurisdiction of the High Court shall extend to the question of the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of this constitution, and no such question shall be raised (whether by pleading, argument or otherwise) in any Court established under this or any other Article of this Constitution other than the High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court."

In the past, the High Court has overturned decisions of the Labour Court for straying beyond the boundaries of domestic legislation where there was no ambiguity on the face of the relevant statute. This arose where the Labour Court adopted a purposive interpretation of domestic legislation to give effect to EU law, resulting in decisions that did not sit easily with national law. For example, in HSE v Umar, Hedigan J observed: "It is clear that a court must be faced with some obscurity or ambiguity that requires resolution before it can give a purposive interpretation. If there is no such obscurity or ambiguity then it must apply the law as the Oireachtas provided. To do otherwise is to amend the statute by imposing something which is not there." This jurisdictional restraint has been directly acknowledged by the Labour Court. In Seclusion Properties Limited v Kieran O'Donovan, the Labour Court stated, "it is clear that the obligation on domestic courts and tribunals to interpret national law in conformity with Directive applies "as far as possible". This is to say, it cannot serve as a basis for an interpretation of national law contra legem".

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