Following on from my previous post regarding the District Court, I will now outline the main features of the Circuit Court, which was established under section 4 of the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act, 1961.
The Circuit Court is comprised of a President (currently Mr. Justice Raymond Groarke, appointed in June 2012), and 37 ordinary judges. As befits the appointment, the President of the District Court is also an ex officio member of the Circuit Court.
There are 8 Circuits in Ireland – Dublin, Cork, Eastern, South Eastern, Western, South Western, Northern, and Midlands. (Only Dublin and Cork sit continually throughout the legal year; sittings in other Circuits are of varying lengths.) At any given time, 10 judges are assigned to the Dublin Circuit, 3 to the Cork Circuit, and one each to the remaining Circuits. In civil matters, one judge sits alone, whereas criminal matters are heard by a judge and 12 jury members.
There are also 26 Circuit Court offices across the country, with a County Registrar assigned to each one to oversee administration.
Function & Jurisdiction
The Circuit Court hears civil and criminal cases in a variety of matters (including de novo appeals from the District Court), a brief summary of which is listed below:
The monetary jurisdiction in the Circuit Court is currently limited to €38,092.14*, meaning that that is the maximum award a judge can make in respect of a civil case. If the claim involves land, the rateable valuation of that land must not exceed €253.95**. Within these limits, the Circuit Court has jurisdiction to hear a wide variety of civil matters, including issues in contract law, tort law (for example, negligence), and family law (for example, judicial separation, divorce, nullity, and all ancillary matters).
*Note that this is accurate as at September 2012, but is due to increase to €100,000 in the near future.
**This is accurate as at September 2012, but is due to be amended to all land not exceeding a market value of €3,000,000 in the near future.
As with civil matters, the Circuit Court has a wide jurisdiction in respect of criminal matters and, when hearing them, is referred to as the Circuit Criminal Court. It deals with all indictable offences which are sent forward from the District Court with some exceptions, including rape, murder, aggravated sexual assault, treason, and piracy. (These latter crimes must be heard in the Central Criminal Court, which is what the High Court is called when hearing criminal matters.)
In addition, the County Registrar hears minor administrative matters in civil cases, such as applications for substituted service (where a party is having difficulty serving proceedings on another party), and Motions for Discovery (where one party seeks documentation from another).
Apart from hearing appeals from the District Court, the Circuit Court can also hear appeals from decisions of the Labour Court, the Unfair Dismissals Tribunal, and the Employment Appeals Tribunal. (It is worth nothing that, for such appeals, the Circuit Court is bound by the jurisdiction of the lower body so that, for example, in a civil appeal from the District Court, it cannot make an award greater than the monetary jurisdiction of the District Court.)
In respect of appeals made from the Circuit Court, there are, as with the District Court, two types: a de novo appeal, and an appeal on a point of law.
A de novo appeal means that the case is completely re-heard from the beginning by a higher court. For civil Circuit Court cases, all de novo appeals are heard by the High Court. For criminal cases, all de novo appeals are heard by the Court of Criminal Appeal. Determinations of the High Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal are final and cannot be appealed.
On a point of law
These are heard by the Supreme Court, and can occur either during the case (referred to as a “consultative case stated”) or after the case has been heard in full (referred to as “an appeal by way of case stated”). In such appeals, the Supreme Court accepts the factual findings of the Circuit Court, and is only concerned with the legal issues. An example of this would be where there was some confusion as to the meaning of a particular piece of legislation. In such an instance, the matter could be sent to the Supreme Court to clear up any ambiguity. The matter is usually then sent back to the Circuit Court so that the case may proceed, or so that any relevant adjustments to the ruling can be made.
Although not strictly an appeal, there also exists a remedy in law known as judicial review (see Order 84 rules 18-26 of the Rules of the Superior Courts). In the Circuit Court, this means that, where an individual is of the belief that a judge or other administrative body has acted in excess of its jurisdiction or contrary to its duty, that person can query or challenge that action in the High Court.
The above is a brief summary of the workings of the Circuit Court in Ireland. Unfortunately, it is impossible to give an all-encompassing description, but I hope that the above serves to make the matter a little clearer. More information can be found here or, as usual, by leaving a question in the comment section below.