The civil courts in Ireland comprise the District Court, the Circuit Court and the higher courts. The District Court and Circuit Court have wide jurisdiction in contract and tort/civil wrong matters, subject to the respective monetary limits on their jurisdiction.
There are 23 District Court areas together with the Dublin Metropolitan District presided over by a President and 63 full-time legally qualified District Court judges. Their jurisdiction is both limited to matters occurring within the district and is subject to monetary limits.
Much of the District Court’s work is in relation to summary criminal matters/offences and is equivalent to the Magistrates Court. The District Court’s civil jurisdiction includes many of the licensing and administrative appeals equivalent to those taken to the Magistrates Court in England and Wales.
Their civil jurisdiction, principally in contract and tort matters, is similar to that exercised by the district judge in the County Court in England and Wales. The standard jurisdictional limit of the District Court is €15,000.
The District Court manages a small claims procedure where the judge is the District Court clerk or equivalent officer. This applies to small consumer claims with a value below €2000 in contract and certain other matters relevant to consumers and small business.
In most cases in the District Court, a solicitor appears as an advocate. In some exceptional cases a barrister usually Junior Counsel, might be instructed.
The Circuit Court has jurisdiction up to €75,000 in most civil matters. The limit in personal injury cases is €60,000.
The State is divided into eight circuits with a President and 37 full-time judges. Outside of the main urban areas, the Circuit Court judge sits in the main towns within the circuit at regular intervals to hear cases. The Circuit Court has a very broad equity and probate jurisdiction, broadly up to an asset value limit of €3 million.
The Circuit Court is the direct successor of the County Court (when Ireland was part of the UK) and is broadly equivalent to the County Court in England and Wales. Its jurisdiction is not as extensive as that of the High Court.
The higher courts in Ireland comprise the High Court which has full original jurisdiction in all matters. The High Court is based principally in Dublin although it hears cases on circuit in the main towns and cities on a regular basis.
Although all cases may be brought in the High Court, a party who proceeds in the High Court who could have proceeded within the jurisdiction levels of the Circuit Court or District Court, is likely to be subject to costs penalties other than where exceptional circumstances of points of law justify taking proceedings in the High Court.
Most appeals from the High Court are taken to the newly established Court of Appeal which sits in panels of three judges. There is a Supreme Court to which a further appeal or a direct appeal from the High Court may be taken in exceptional cases of general public importance and/ or, where it is in the interests of justice to do so.
Specialist Divisions and Courts
Although there is no separate Common Law and Chancery Divisions, in practice some judges specialise in Chancery matters and others in common law matters in much the same way as in England and Wales. Equally, there are barristers who specialise in broadly traditional common law or Chancery areas, as well as in many other distinct fields of law.
The Commercial Court is a division of the High Court established in 2004 which specialises in hearing cases more than €1 million in value in particular commercial areas. Cases must be specifically admitted to the Commercial Court list.
Initially, the Commercial Court was the only court which exercised the case management approach which has been taken in England and Wales since the Woolf reforms and the new Civil Procedure Rules introduced in 1999. Gradually culminating with significant changes in the last five years, the case management approach has been introduced in almost all civil proceedings in all courts, following the broad structure of the Woolf reforms.
There is a competition list in the High Court. Other divisions and more formally specialist courts have been suggested. In practice, certain judges specialise in certain cases so that there is an informal division and specialisation to some extent.