The District Court is the lowest court in the Irish court system. It is presided over by the President of the District Court and 63 District Court Judges.
The District Court is organised on a regional basis. There are 23 District Court Districts, as well as the Dublin Metropolitan District. Each District is in turn divided into District Court areas.
The District Court is a court of local and limited jurisdiction. This means it is restricted as to which cases it can decide in both civil and criminal matters.
Under Part 3 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 the monetary jurisdiction of the District Court increased to €15,000 (was €6,348.69) with effect from 3 February 2014.
A District Court cannot hear a case that has not been commenced in the correct District Court area. The case must be brought, heard and decided in the District Court area:
- Where the defendant or one of the defendants ordinarily resides or carries on any profession, business or occupation
- If the plaintiff chooses,
- in proceedings based on contract, where the contract was made
- in proceedings based on tort (e.g., personal injuries actions), where the tort is alleged to have been committed
- in proceedings to eject a person from lands or property, where the lands or property in question is located
The District Court is restricted to hearing cases where the damages or compensation sought do not exceed a certain amount. The District Court can hear cases:
- In contract generally where the claim does not exceed €15,000
- In actions founded on hire-purchase and credit-sale agreements where the hire-purchase price of the goods or the amount of the claim does not exceed €15,000
- In tort, where the claim for compensation does not exceed €15,000
- In ejectment for non-payment of rent or overholding of property, where the annual rent does not exceed €15,000 per annum
- In actions for wrongful detention of goods where the value of the goods claimed does not exceed €15,000
Other types of cases that the District Court may hear include:
- Family cases where the District Court has the power to make maintenance, barring, custody, access and affiliation orders
- Enforcement of judgements, including the power to examine debtors as to their means, to order payment of the debt by instalments and to commit the debtor to prison for default in payment
- Licensing cases, e.g., the granting of certificates for intoxicating liquor licences, the granting of certificates for auctioneer's and the lottery licences, the granting of licences for public dancing, etc.
- Malicious damages cases where the amount claimed does not exceed €15,000
A criminal case will be heard in the District Court area where:
- The offence was committed or
- The defendant resides or carries on business or
- The defendant was arrested
There are two types of criminal offences:
- Summary offences, i.e., offences that are tried by a judge sitting alone
- Indictable offences, i.e., offences that can be tried by a judge and jury
The criminal jurisdiction of the District Court falls under the following headings.
Summary offences that may be heard by the District Court Judge sitting without a jury. This makes up the great bulk of the work of the District Court and these offences come from legislation only.
Indictable offences which are triable summarily on the basis that:
- In the view of the judge, the facts alleged constitute a minor offence and
- The accused, on being informed of his/her right to be tried by a jury, does not object to being tried summarily and
- In the case of certain offences, the Director of Public Prosecutions has consented to a summary trial
These types of offences are specified in the appropriate legislation.
Indictable offences that may be dealt with summarily (not certain offences including rape, aggravated sexual assault, murder, treason and piracy) when:
- The accused, when before the District Court, pleads guilty and
- The judge is satisfied that the accused understands the charge and
- The Director of Public Prosecutions consents
If the case is not dealt with by the District Court, the accused is sent forward to the Circuit Court for sentence. At the Circuit Court, he/she may withdraw his/her plea of "guilty" and alter it to "not guilty", in which case a trial takes place.
Indictable offences not triable summarily, that is, cases that must be heard by a judge and jury. In these cases, the accused is served with a "Book of Evidence", i.e., a statement of the charge and of the evidence intended to be introduced to the court and a list of witnesses and exhibits. The Disrtict Court Judge no longer considers the material and submissions, on behalf of the accused or the prosecution, to decide whether there is a sufficient case. This was the process known as preliminary examination and has been abolished. The District Court Judge will send the accused forward to the Circuit Court or Central Criminal Court for trial once the book of evidence has been served and the DPP has consented to sending the case forward.
For more information about the District Court contact: