There are many tribunals in Ireland that make binding decisions about people's rights but are not a court of law. A rights tribunal acts like a court but is not part of the courts system. It interprets and applies the law to make binding decisions on disputes between different parties.
Rights tribunals are established by an Act of the Oireachtas. Their purpose is 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 disputes.
How rights tribunals are set up
The legislation establishing the tribunal sets out how many members will sit on it and if they will be lawyers, civil servants or representatives of industry. It also sets out the powers of the tribunal and the procedures that will be applied.
The legislation also states how a decision of the rights tribunal can be appealed. In some cases there might be a special appeals process set out in the legislation. For example, appeals from the Workplace Relations Commission are made to the Labour Court.
The legislation may also state 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 (cancelled) 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.
Examples of rights tribunals
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.
- Workplace Relations Commission: 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.
- 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 Intellectual Property Office of Ireland: 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.