The Constitution of Ireland prescribes that justice shall be administered in courts established by law by judges appointed by the President on the advice of the Government; the judges of all courts are under the Constitution completely independent in the exercise of their judicial functions. A judge may not be removed from office except for stated misbehaviour or incapacity and then only on foot of resolutions passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas (Parliament).
The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction from all decisions of the High Court. The Supreme Court also has jurisdiction to hear an appeal from the Court of Criminal Appeal if the Court of Criminal Appeal or the Attorney General certifies that the decision involves a point of law of exceptional public importance and that it is desirable in the public interest that an appeal should be taken to the Supreme Court. The court may also give a ruling on a question of law submitted to it by the Circuit Court. The Supreme Court has power to decide whether a Bill (or any provision or provisions of it), which has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and presented to the President of Ireland for his/her signature before being enacted into law, is repugnant to the Constitution, on the matter being referred to the court by the President. If a question of the permanent incapacity of the President arises such question falls to be decided by the Supreme Court.
Appeals or other matters are heard and determined by five judges of the Supreme Court unless the Chief Justice directs that any appeal or other matter (apart from matters relating to the constitution) be heard and determined by three judges. The court may sit in more than one Division at the same time.
Under the Constitution the High Court has full original jurisdiction in and power to determine all matters and questions, whether of law or fact, civil or criminal. The High Court has exclusive jurisdiction in matters relating to the adoption of children and with regard to applications for extradition. The jurisdiction of the High Court extends to the question of the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of the Constitution (except a law which has already been referred to the Supreme Court by the President of Ireland). Most High Court cases are tried by a sole Judge, although there is provision in law for certain matters such as actions for libel, assault or false imprisonment to be tried by a judge sitting with a jury. Cases of exceptional importance may be tried by two or more judges sitting as a Divisional Court.
The High Court acts as an appeal court from the Circuit Court in civil matters. Apart from its appellate jurisdiction in Circuit Court civil appeals, the High Court also has power to review the decisions of all inferior tribunals by the issue of prerogative orders of Mandamus, Prohibition and Certiorari. These orders relate not to the merits of the decision of the inferior tribunals but to the question of whether jurisdiction has been exceeded.
The High Court may give rulings on a question of law submitted by the District Court. It also deals with applications for bail where the accused person has ben charged with the crime of murder or where the accused wishes to seek a variation of the terms and conditions imposed by the District Court.
Normally the High Court sits in Dublin to hear original actions. It also sits in a number of provincial venues to hear original actions for damages for Personal and Fatal Injuries. The High Court on Circuit hears appeals from the Circuit Court in provincial venues.
The civil jurisdiction of the Circuit Court is a limited one unless all the parties to an action consent, in which event the jurisdiction is unlimited. The limit of the court's jurisdiction in actions in contract, hire-purchase or credit-sale agreements and tort is €38,092.14.
The Circuit Court has jurisdiction in probate related matters, and in matters concerning title to or tenancies of real estate where the rateable valuation of the property does not exceed €253.95. The Circuit court has jurisdiction in family law proceedings including judicial separation, divorce, nullity and appeals from the District Court.
Civil cases in the Circuit Court are tried by a judge sitting without a jury. It acts as an appeal court from the District Court in both civil and criminal matters. The appeal takes the form of a re-hearing and the decision of the Circuit Court is final and cannot be further appealed.
The Circuit Court also has jurisdiction in all cases of application for new licences for sale of liquor for consumption on the premises, and has appellate jurisdiction from the decisions of tribunals such as the Director of Equality Investigations.
The District Court has local and limited jurisdiction. In Family Law matters it has power to make maintenance, barring, custody, access and affiliation orders.
The District Court has jurisdiction to try civil cases founded on contract, hire purchase or credit sale agreements, tort, and non-payment of rent or wrongful detention of goods, where the value of the claim does not exceed €6,348.69. It also has jurisdiction in relation to the enforcement generally of the judgements for debt of any court, jurisdiction in relation to a large number of licensing provisions e.g. relating to the sale of intoxicating liquor, and jurisdiction in respect of applications for malicious damages where the amount claimed does not exceed €6,348.69.
The District Court sits at 248 venues (including Dublin) throughout the country. Generally, the venue at which a case is heard depends on where the contract was made, or where the defendant resides or carries on business, or in licensing cases, on where the licensed premises are situated.
The Small Claims procedure provides an inexpensive and informal means for the resolution of consumer claims without requiring either party to be legally represented. This procedure is available for claims not exceeding €1,269.74 in value where a consumer buys goods or services, suffers minor damage to property, or seeks the return of a rent deposit. No court appearance is required for undisputed claims. If the claim is disputed and a settlement cannot be reached out of court, the case is tried by a judge of the District Court whose order may be appealed to the Circuit Court.
A number of tribunals deal with income tax appeals, social welfare entitlements, claims under the Equality legislation, immigration applications, town planning and employment matters. These tribunals are not presided over by judges but by qualified specialists and their decisions are subject to appeal or review by the Circuit or High Court.
Last update: 19-05-2005