Tag Archives: Circuit Court

Courts Bill 2013 – changes to the ‘in camera’ rule, and increases to District & Circuit Court awards

The government has today published the Courts Bill 2013, which proposes to change the law not just in relation to family law cases, but to the District and Circuit Courts in general.

Turning first to the impact on family law, it is currently the case in Ireland that family law matters are held in camera, that is, in private. The only people privy to the proceedings are the parties involved, any witnesses, legal counsel, and the judge. Under this new Bill, it is proposed that the in camera rule be changed to allow for “bona fide representatives from the Press” to attend and report on certain cases. However, the court will still have the power to prevent the media from being present and/or from reporting on certain details such as sensitive personal information, and nothing can be published or broadcast which might lead members of the public to identify the parties and/or children involved in the proceedings.

The reasoning behind the proposed change is to add an element of transparency to the family law process which, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter says, will “provide valuable information on the operation of the law in this area”.

Turning to the proposed changes to the District and Circuit Courts, the Bill aims to increase the maximum monetary award in the District Court from €6,384 to €15,000, and to increase the maximum Circuit Court award from €38,092 to €75,000 (though, in personal injuries cases, that award will be capped at €60,000).

The practical effect of this, it is envisaged, will be a reduction in legal costs. For example, as it currently stands, if a party wishes to claim for a sum of €40,000, he will have to begin his proceedings in the High Court, thus attracting High Court legal costs. If the maximum award was increased, however, he could then bring his claim in the Circuit, thus only subjecting himself to costs at that lower level.

The full text of the Bill can be found here.

What do you think of the proposed amendments to the in camera rule? And to the proposed increase of maximum monetary awards in the District and Circuit Courts?

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Structure, Function & Jurisdiction of the High Court of Ireland

I have already covered the District Court and Circuit Court in previous posts, so the next logical step is to examine the High Court. Legally established by section 2 of the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act, 1961, it is empowered with full original jurisdiction by Article 34.3.1 of Bunreacht na hEireann. This means that it has full power “to determine all matters and questions whether of law or fact, civil or criminal”.

Structure

The High Court consists of a President (currently the Honourable Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, appointed in October 2009) and 36 ordinary judges. The Chief Justice and the President of the Circuit Court are ex officio members.

Civil cases are usually heard by one judge sitting alone, although cases of defamation, assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution all require a jury. Though rare, cases of particular importance (for example, a constitutional issue which is in the public interest) are heard by three judges. Criminal matters require a judge and jury. Continue reading

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Structure, Function & Jurisdiction of the Circuit Court of Ireland

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.

Structure

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. Continue reading

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