The maximum number of judges that can be appointed to the High Court is 37. This includes the President of the High Court. The President of the Circuit Court and the Chief Justice are also additional Judges of the High Court.
Normally the High Court sits in Dublin to hear original actions (i.e., cases that are not appeals from a lower court). It also sits in Cork and Galway four times each year; Limerick three times each year; Waterford, Sligo and Dundalk twice each year and Kilkenny and Ennis once a year to hear original actions.
The High Court hears appeals from the Circuit Court, in civil and family law matters, twice a year at the following venues outside Dublin - Carlow, Carrick-on-Shannon, Cavan, Castlebar, Clonmel, Cork, Dundalk, Ennis, Galway, Kilkenny, Letterkenny, Limerick, Longford, Monaghan, Mullingar, Naas, Nenagh, Portlaoise, Roscommon, Sligo, Tullamore, Tralee, Trim, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow.
Matters coming before the High Court are normally heard and determined by one judge but the President of the High Court may direct that any case may be heard by three judges in what is known as a divisional court.
The High Court is not a court of local or limited jurisdiction.
Bunreacht na hEireann (the Irish Constitution) states that the High Court has full original jurisdiction in and power to determine all matters and questions, whether of law or fact, civil or criminal. This means that there is no limit or restriction either as to where proceedings should be commenced or how much money can be awarded by the High Court in compensation or damages.
In certain civil cases, such as defamation, assault and false imprisonment, a judge will sit with a jury in the High Court. In all cases, a majority vote of nine of the twelve jurors is sufficient to determine the verdict.
- The High Court is the appropriate court to hear cases involving claims for damages in excess of €75,000 (personal injury €60,000).
- The High Court can hear questions relating to the validity of a law.
- The High Court acts as an appeal court from the Circuit Court in civil matters.
- The High Court has power to review the decisions of all inferior courts by judicial review.
- The High Court may give rulings on a question of law submitted by the District Court and may hear appeals in certain other circumstances provided by statute, i.e., in regard to decisions of the District Court on applications for bail.
- The High Court can review decisions of certain Tribunals of Inquiry
- The High Court can review certain decisions made by public bodies including, for example, those on environmental matters
When the High Court is hearing criminal matters it is known as the Central Criminal Court. In criminal matters, the High Court Judge sits with a jury of twelve. However, a verdict need not be unanimous in a case where there are at least eleven jurors if ten of them agree on a verdict after a reasonable time has passed (not less than two hours).
A person refused bail in the District Court can apply to the High Court for bail. A person granted bail in the District Court can apply to the High Court to vary the conditions of bail. A person charged with murder can only apply to the High Court for bail.
The following types and categories of offences must be heard by the Central Criminal Court sitting with a judge and jury:
- Encouragement or concealing knowledge of treason
- Offences relating to the obstruction of government and obstruction of the President
- Murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder
- Offences under the Genocide Act, 1973
- Rape, aggravated sexual assault and attempted aggravated sexual assault under the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act, 1990