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The Courts

The Courts

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The Irish Courts System

The Irish Courts System exists in what is called a ‘common law’ jurisdiction. It shares this with other English speaking countries, such as the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; and some non-English speaking countries, such as India. The system originates from the English legal system. Common-law legal systems place greater emphasis on previous court decisions than do ‘civil-law’ jurisdictions, such as those in France and other European countries. Those legal systems originate from Roman Law and, more recently, the legal framework put in place by Napoleon Bonaparte. This means that lawyers working in common-law jurisdictions like Ireland need to work more closely with case-law (previous cases that have come before the courts) than do lawyers operating in civil-law countries. Irish courts are bound by their previous decisions and this is known as the principle of stare-decisis. The Irish legal system is broadly divided into two branches: the civil side and the criminal side, each with its own specialised courts. Civil courts hear cases involving disputes between individuals, organisations or the State. These disputes may concern anything from an injury caused in a car accident to a contested corporate takeover. In civil cases the plaintiff (someone who takes a civil action in a court of law) sues the defendant (someone against whom an action or claim is brought) for compensation for the wrong caused. The compensation for damages caused is usually money. The different courts can hear cases for compensation of certain amounts. These are: in the District Court claims up to €6,348.69; in the Circuit Court claims between €6,348.69 and €38,092.14; and in the High Court claims above €38,092.14. The Criminal Courts deal with prosecutions brought by the State against people accused ofanti-social behaviour – from petty theft to murder.

Circuit Court There is a jury for Circuit Court cases. Disputes involving European law raised in the Irish courts may be referred to the European Court of First Instance and. Ireland is a member of the European Union. The Circuit Court hears cases concerning manslaughter. the Circuit Court and the District Court. piracy. Generally. District Court There is no jury for District Court cases. conspiracy and . the same judges deal with all classes of cases. robbery and serious offences against person and property. murder. The Central Criminal Court handles reserved offences like treason. This court hears ‘indictable offences’ – a person who commits an indictable offence can be charged with a serious crime in a court with a jury. Central Criminal Court A jury sits for Central Criminal Court cases. When the High Court hears criminal cases it is known as the Central Criminal Court. Separate rules apply to the Superior Courts. or. It is an appellate court. The Supreme Court and the High Court are referred to as ‘The Superior Courts’. This court hears minor or summary offences (summary offences are tried by a judge sitting alone) to do with traffic. the European Court of Justice.The Supreme Court is the court of final appeal for both civil and criminal cases. sitting from time to time for civil or criminal cases. drugs and criminal damage. as needed. This means that it hears appeals referred to it from lower courts.

it can deal with actions to eject tenants who have not paid their rent. However. provided the rent is less than €6. The District Court can also deal with the renewal of liquor licences. In environmental matters. The details of how the District Court is structured are in legislation.348.348. but it can change maintenance awards up to a certain limit. District Court appeals go to the Circuit Court. The Special Criminal Court sits when the ordinary courts cannot effectively do justice because the jury or witnesses are at risk of being intimidated. Special Criminal Court This court sits with three judges and no jury.348. the District Court can deal with claims for compensation under the Local Government Water Pollution Acts 1977-1990 that are limited to €6. however.69. genocide. certificate of the DPP that the ord cts inadequate.attempt to commit murder. Neither can it grant decrees of judicial separation or divorce. rape and aggravated sexual assault. this can be increased if the parties involved in the case agree in writing.69 in damages. under Off v State Act. Civil Courts The District Court The District Court can hear cases within its own geographical area and award compensation of up to €6. The District Court can hear cases involving disputes over contracts and claims in tort. The District Court is limited in the types of landlord and tenant cases it can handle. it cannot hear certain types of tort (civil) cases such as defamation. The State is divided into 23 different districts. For example.69 per year. . Offences involving Explosives or firearms.

or decide how a partnership should be dissolved. For example. The Circuit Court can grant or refuse certain applications for new liquor licences.092. provided the rateable valuation is less than £200. this amount can be increased if the parties involved in the case agree in writing.95. Any land involved must have a rateable valuation of less than €253. (‘mesne rates’ are damages for occupation after a tenancy has been legally terminated. it may: grant an injunction. the Circuit Court can hear all types of claims in contract and tort.092.) The Circuit Court can also hear certain ‘cases in equity’ (when someone wants a remedy other than damages).092. the Circuit Court can hear any case. In disputes between landlords and tenants. make orders about how an estate (the money and property of someone who has died) should be handled.14. In such cases barristers do not wear wigs or gowns to make the atmosphere more suitable. a plaintiff can seek damages for defamation provided they are only seeking up to €38. Unlike the District Court. The Circuit Court does not have jurisdiction to award more than €38.The Circuit Court The Circuit Court can hear cases within its own geographical area and award compensation of up to €38. The Circuit Court can deal with land disputes where the rateable valuation of land involved is less than €253. The details of how the Circuit Court is structured are in legislation.14. Decrees of judicial separation. so for example. However. . When dealing with family law matters. the Circuit Court is referred to as the Circuit Family Court. nullity (when a marriage is ruled to be not legally binding) and divorce can be made in the Circuit Court just as they can in the High Court.14 for arrears of rent and ‘mesne rates’.95.

the High Court has full ‘original jurisdiction’. Only the High Court can order a company to be wound up under the Companies Acts and deal with issues like ‘examinership’ and bankruptcy. “The Courts of First Instance shall include a High Court invested with full original jurisdiction in and power to determine all matters and questions. The High Court has full power to deal with family law cases. In practice. The decision of the Circuit Court.The Circuit Court can deal with environmental claims that are limited to €38.1 of the Constitution. Someone taking part in a District Court action may appeal to the Circuit Court for a full rehearing to look again at the facts of the case and the law in relation to it.3. The ‘original jurisdiction’ of a court is the right to hear a case for the first time as opposed to ‘appellate jurisdiction’ when a court has the right to review the decision of a previous.092. is final and cannot be appealed.000. The High Court Unlike the Circuit Court or District Court. lower-level court. whether of law or fact. on appeal.14. According to Article 34. The Circuit Court also hears appeals from the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) and the Equality Tribunal. Examinership is a way to rescue or reconstruct viable companies. the 1991 Courts Act means that the High Court is the appropriate court for claims of any amount more than €50. An appeal usually lies from a Circuit Court at first instance to the High Court on Circuit. The High Court can determine at ‘first instance’ (when the case is first heard) whether an Act of the Oireachtas or any other piece of legislation is unconstitutional or not. When a company is in ‘examinership’ an ‘examiner’ is appointed and the company is put under the protection of the court. civil or criminal". although most are heard in the Circuit Court. It can also hear petitions in relation to elections and referenda. .

However. Article 26 of the Constitution says that the President may refer Bills to the Supreme Court to get a ruling on whether or not they are constitutional. The High Court handles Wardship applications – where an application is made to make a child or a person of unsound mind a ward of court. Circuit Court and other partly-judicial groups like An Bord Pleanala. It mainly handles appeals and therefore its ‘original jurisdiction’ (cases not yet heard before another court) is very limited. for example. If the District Court refers a case to the High Court to get clarification on a point of law.The High Court can also deal with all land disputes. It is the Court of Final Appeal. Appeals from the Circuit Court are brought to the High Court on Circuit or by case stated on a point of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court The Supreme Court is established as directed by the Constitution. The Court then looks after their affairs. Only the High Court can perform judicial reviews of decisions of inferior (lower) courts and tribunals. the District Court. the Supreme Court does have the important role of deciding whether a Bill (proposed legislation) is constitutional. In certain cases the Circuit Court can make someone a ward of court. the decision of the High Court may be further appealed to the Supreme Court. When a case is appealed from the Circuit Court to the High Court on Circuit for a full rehearing. If the Supreme Court rules that the Bill is constitutional. there may be a further appeal to the Supreme Court on that point of law. . that Bill cannot be challenged again on its constitutionality. Appeals from the District Court are brought to the Circuit Court or directly to the High Court by way of case stated on a point of law only.

known as indictable offences. Certain offences. although they are normally tried with a jury in the Circuit Court. such as rape and murder. It is effectively a clearing house for major criminal cases. which are tried by a judge and jury. An important part of the District Court’s criminal work is that all criminal matters start there.All appeals from the High Court to the Supreme Court are on a point of law only as there can be no de novo rehearing (full fresh rehearing). It sits without a jury and cases are usually brought before it by means of a document called a summons. When dealing with these cases it is known as the Children’s Court. The District Judge conducts a preliminary examination of the charges and then sends those cases forward either to the Circuit Court. It sits with a jury. Central Criminal Court The Central Criminal Court (which is what the High Court is called when it deals with criminal cases) deals with more serious crimes that. The Criminal Courts The criminal court system in Ireland is hierarchical. only it can deal with. . the Central Criminal Court or the Special Criminal Court to be tried by that court. by law. The District Court also deals with minor offences alleged to have been committed by children (in this context children are defined as people under 16). The District Court The District Court deals with minor offences (generally those that carry a maximum sentence of one year or a maximum fine). may be heard in the District Court if some conditions are fulfilled. The Circuit Court The Circuit Court deals with more serious offences.

appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal where the appeal is heard using a transcript of the evidence at trial. the prison sentence. one Circuit Court judge and one District Court judge. In such circumstances. There is a right of appeal against its decisions to the Court of Criminal Appeal. Special Criminal Court. Special Criminal Court The Special Criminal Court was specially established by an Act of the Oireachtas to deal with terrorism and offences against the State. The decision of the Circuit Court on appeal is final and cannot be further appealed. A panel of three judges sits on it: normally one High Court judge. the Court of Criminal Appeal may: dismiss the appeal. an application may be made to the High Court by way of consultative case stated on a point of law prior to a final decision of the court. The Court of Criminal Appeal consists of one Supreme Court and two High Court judges. A defendant may appeal against conviction and. This involves a full rehearing of the case. generally only the defendant can bring an appeal to the Circuit Court. There is an appeal from this decision of the High Court to the Supreme Court. However. or quash the conviction and release the defendant. A person who wishes to appeal after a trial on indictment. an appeal goes from the District Court to the Circuit Court. It lies outside the normal hierarchical court structure. Generally. .Appeals Just as in civil cases. the prosecutor cannot appeal to the Circuit Court. This type of appeal can be made by the prosecutor or the defendant. and. quash the conviction and order a retrial. Alternatively. if the defendant is acquitted (found not guilty) in the District Court. Central Criminal Court. such a case may be appealed to determine whether a final decision is correct in law. The Court of Criminal Appeal hears appeals from the: Circuit Criminal Court. It can also be used where the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) certifies that the ordinary courts are inadequate. As in civil cases. unlike civil cases. or.

When dealing with these cases it is known as the Children’s Court. Certain offences. Criminal Appeals to the Supreme Court In summary District Court criminal trials (trials before a judge but without a jury) where someone takes a case to the High Court to clarify a point of law. It sits without a jury and cases are usually brought before it by means of a document called a summons. but only if the DPP or Attorney General or the Court of Criminal Appeal itself certifies that a point of law of exceptional public importance arises. The Criminal Courts The structure of the criminal court system in Ireland is hierarchical. The Supreme Court then has three options. quash the conviction and release the defendant. The District Court also deals with minor offences alleged to have been committed by children (children are defined as persons under 16 for this purpose). An important part of the District Court’s criminal work is that all criminal matters start there. Where the Court of Criminal Appeal. the Central Criminal Court or the Special Criminal Court to be tried by that court. may be heard in the District Court if certain conditions are fulfilled. The District Judge conducts a preliminary examination of such charges and then sends those cases forward either to the Circuit Court. with the District Court dealing with minor offences (generally those that carry a maximum sentence of 1 year or a maximum fine). or quash the conviction and order a re-trial. also deal with the sentence on the same basis as the Court of Criminal Appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of final appeal for both civil and criminal cases. it can: dismiss the appeal. A further appeal can be made by the Court of Criminal Appeal to the Supreme Court. Any sentence that is appealed may be reduced or increased. the High Court decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court. the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General certify that a point of law of exceptional public importance arises.Only the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) can appeal against the length of a prison sentence. It is effectively a clearing house for major criminal cases. although they are normally to be tried on indictment with a jury in the Circuit Court. It can. a decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal can be taken to the Supreme Court. of course. .

It consists of one Supreme Court and two High Court judges. only the defendant can in general bring an appeal in the Circuit Court. and in such cases a judge sits with a jury. However. The decision of the Circuit Court on appeal is final and cannot be further appealed. There is a right of appeal against its decisions to the Court of Criminal Appeal. It can also be used where the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) certifies that the ordinary courts are inadequate. and sits with a jury. Such an application can be made by the prosecutor or the defendant. Special Criminal Court. The Special Criminal Court was specially established by Act of Oireachtas to deal with terrorism and offences against the State. quash the conviction and order a retrial or quash the conviction and release the defendant. by law. As in civil cases. Central Criminal Court.The Circuit Court deals with more serious offences. only it can deal with. known as indictable offences. A further appeal lies from the Court of Criminal Appeal to . Generally. the Court of Criminal Appeal may either dismiss the appeal. and. while the Central Criminal Court (which is the High Court dealing with criminal cases) deals with more serious crimes that. This involves a full rehearing of the case. Just as in civil cases. an application may be made to the High Court by way of consultative case stated on a point of law prior to a final decision of the court or such a case may be stated by way of appeal to determine whether a final decision is correct in law. if the defendant is acquitted in the District Court. In such circumstances. There is an appeal from this decision of the High Court to the Supreme Court. The Court of Criminal Appeal hears appeals from the: Circuit Criminal Court. appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal where the appeal is conducted on a transcript of the evidence at trial. the prosecutor has no right of appeal to the Circuit Court. A person who wishes to appeal after a trial on indictment. It lies outside the normal hierarchical structure outlined above and a panel of three judges sits on it. one Circuit Court judge and one District Court judge. unlike in civil cases.. an appeal lies from the District Court to the Circuit Court. normally one High Court judge. Appeals against sentence only may be taken by the DPP. On any appeal against sentence such sentence may be reduced or increased. A defendant may appeal against conviction and/or sentence. such as rape and murder.

but only if the DPP or Attorney General or the Court of Criminal Appeal itself certify that a point of law of exceptional public importance arises. quash the conviction and release the defendant or quash the conviction and order a re-trial. An appeal to the Supreme Court can be taken from the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal. of course. that decision of the High Court can be appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the court of final appeal for both civil and criminal cases.the Supreme Court. but only where the Court of Criminal Appeal. On a further appeal to the Supreme Court from the Court of Criminal Appeal. the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General certify that a point of law of exceptional public importance arises. it has three options: dismiss the appeal. also deal with sentence on the same basis as the Court of Criminal Appeal . Criminal Appeals to the Supreme Court In summary criminal trials in the District Court where a party proceeds by case stated on a point of law to the High Court. It can.

drugs. rape and aggravated sexual assault Special Criminal Court established when the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of Justice – intimidation of jury or witnesses Offences involving Explosives or firearms. Also Genocide. criminal damage. Circuit – Indictable – jury. certificate of the DPP that the ord cts inadequate Source Irish Courts Service . robbery and serious offences against person & property (High) CCC – reserved offences treason piracy murder & conspiracy & attempt to.District Court minor or summary offences – no jury – traffic. under Off v State Act. manslaughter.

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