Having covered the District, Circuit, and High Courts, I will now round out the series by outlining the main features of the Supreme Court, which was established under section 1 of the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act, 1961. The Supreme Court, which sits in the Four Courts in Dublin, is the court of final appeal in Ireland.
The Supreme Court is comprised of a President, known as the Chief Justice (currently Her Honour Ms. Justice Susan Denham, appointed in July 2012, and the first ever female Chief Justice), and 7 ordinary judges. As befits his office, the President of the High Court is also an ex officio member of the Supreme Court. In certain circumstances, it is permissible for extra judges to sit, for example, if one of the Supreme Court judges is president of the Law Reform Commission, where a former Chief Justice serves as a Supreme Court judge, or where there are insufficient numbers for the hearing of a matter, whether by reason of illness or otherwise. The judges are ranked as follows:-
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”.
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