There are many tribunals in the State that make binding decisions about people's rights. A rights tribunal acts like a court; it interprets and applies the law to make binding decisions on disputes between different parties.
A rights tribunal is established when the Government proposes a Bill that is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. A rights tribunal is usually set up to provide a quick, informal and inexpensive alternative to the courts system in a specific area of law, for example, employment law. Rights tribunals deal with a wide range of different types of disputes.
The legislation establishing the tribunal sets out how many members will sit on the tribunal and whether they will be lawyers, civil servants or representatives of industry. It will also set out the powers of the tribunal and the procedures that will be applied.
The terms of the legislation will state whether or not a decision of the rights tribunal can be appealed in its entirety in the courts. For example, a decision of the Employment Appeals Tribunal can be appealed in the Circuit Court.
However, the legislation may also provide that there is no appeal to the court except by way of judicial review in the High Court. This means that the court will not substitute its own verdict for the decision made by the tribunal, but will ensure that the decision was made fairly. If the decision of the tribunal was made without following fair procedures, it may be set aside by the High Court.
The State pays the cost of running a rights tribunal. Parties appearing before a rights tribunal generally have to pay for their own legal representation.
Some well-known rights tribunals include:
- Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. This tribunal decides the level of compensation to be paid to persons who have suffered injuries in the course of a criminal act.
- The Labour Court. This tribunal investigates disputes between employers and employees and makes recommendations.
- International Protection Appeals Tribunal. This tribunal hears appeals by asylum seekers against decisions to refuse them international protection.
- An Bord Pleanála. This tribunal hears appeals against either the granting or the refusing of planning permission by a planning authority.
- Social Welfare Appeals Office. The appeals officer decides on applications for allowances or benefits under the social welfare legislation.
- Revenue Commissioners. At the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the inspector of taxes is a civil servant who makes an initial assessment of tax. If a taxpayer is dissatisfied with the assessment, he or she can appeal to an Appeals Commissioner.
- Valuation Tribunal. This tribunal hears disputes in relation to the rateable valuation of properties. The rateable valuation is the value that the local authority puts on property for the purpose of deciding what rates will be charged.
- The Controller of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks decides whether certain inventions are entitled to be registered as patents and whether certain symbols, drawings, marks and shapes may be registered as trade marks.