Circuit Court procedures
In the Circuit Court, the person who is bringing the case, that is, the person who is suing, is known as the plaintiff. The person who is being sued is known as the defendant.
To commence proceedings, that is, to start a legal action, the plaintiff or the plaintiff's barrister prepares a Civil Bill. The purpose of this document is to state the case being made against the defendant.
When the defendant receives the Civil Bill, they must enter an appearance to show that they are now a party to the case and intend to defend it. The defendant will then issue a defence setting out why they are not to blame.
If you are the plaintiff, you generally must issue a Civil Bill to commence proceedings in the Circuit Court. Your solicitor may prepare the Civil Bill but usually a barrister is briefed to do so.
There are different types of Civil Bill – your legal representatives will prepare the type of Civil Bill that is appropriate to the nature of the case that you are bringing. For example, if the case relates to a breach of contract, the appropriate Civil Bill is an Ordinary Civil Bill. If your case relates to removing someone from your premises, the appropriate Civil Bill is an Ejectment Civil Bill.
Contents of the Civil Bill
The Civil Bill must contain the following information:
- A title – the plaintiff's name and the defendant's name make up the title of the proceedings.
- The Bill should also describe the nature of the Civil Bill, for example "Ordinary Civil Bill".
- A description of the parties – the Bill must state the surname, first name, the residence or place of business and the occupation of the plaintiff and the defendant.
- A statement of the claim – the Bill must state the nature, extent and grounds of the plaintiff's claim against the defendant. It should clearly set out the allegations that are being made by the plaintiff and the damage that the plaintiff suffered. It should also state what the plaintiff is seeking from the court.
- The Bill must either state the specific amount to which the plaintiff claims they are entitled (which cannot be more than €75,000 or €60,000 in a personal injuries action) or it must state that the plaintiff's claim is limited to the jurisdiction of the court. The plaintiff cannot seek more than €75,000 from the Circuit Court, unless all sides agree to a higher limit.
- The Bill must recite the appropriate circuit in which the claim is being brought.
- The Bill must be dated and signed by the plaintiff or their solicitor.
- The Bill must state whether the plaintiff consents to the service of any documents from the defendant by email.
Serving the Civil Bill
After the Civil Bill has been prepared by the barrister, your solicitor will take it to the Circuit Court office to be issued – this involves paying the stamp duty. After the stamp duty has been paid, the Civil Bill is stamped and it is ready to be served on the defendant or the defendant’s solicitor.
There are different ways to serve the Civil Bill:
- You may hand a copy of the Civil Bill to the defendant personally
- If attempts to serve the defendant personally have been unsuccessful, a copy of the notice can be given to the respondent’s spouse, civil partner, child (if they live with the respondent), employee or agent at the respondent’s last known residence or workplace, as long as that person is not under 16 years of age
- You may send a copy by registered prepaid post to the defendant's last known residence or place of business
Entering an appearance
When the defendant receives the Civil Bill, they should enter an appearance within 10 days. Entering an appearance is a very important step as it indicates in writing that the defendant intends to defend the proceedings. The time limit is not strict and, in most cases, an appearance can be entered after the time has expired.
To enter an appearance, the defendant must lodge an Entry of appearance form at the Circuit Court office. A copy of the form must also be given to the plaintiff or the plaintiff's solicitor.
Judgment in default
If the defendant fails to enter an appearance, the plaintiff can apply to court for judgment in default of appearance. This means that because the defendant, by failing to enter an Appearance, has failed to acknowledge the proceedings and failed to indicate that they intend to defend them, the plaintiff may obtain a judgement from the court against the defendant without the need for a trial.
Delivering the defence
The defendant must deliver a defence to the plaintiff within 10 days of entering an appearance. This means the defendant must send a notice called Defence to the plaintiff’s solicitor. The 10-day time limit is not strict and, in most cases, a defence can be delivered after the time has expired.
There are no set rules about what must be contained in the Defence notice. The document starts with the title of the proceedings.
It is up to the defendant to admit or deny the allegations that the plaintiff has made in their Civil Bill. It is also up to the defendant to state any specific defence that they are relying on. For example, if the defendant is claiming that the plaintiff's claim has been brought outside of the mandatory time limits, then the defendant should specifically plead that fact in the Defence.
If the plaintiff has made a specific allegation and the defendant fails to deny that allegation in the Defence notice, it will be assumed that the defendant is admitting that the allegation is true. For example, if the Civil Bill claims that the plaintiff was involved in a road traffic accident and the defence fails to deny that the road traffic accident occurred, then it is assumed that the defendant is admitting that the road traffic accident happened. It is not then necessary for the plaintiff to prove to the judge that the accident occurred.
On the other hand, when the defendant specifically denies a claim that the plaintiff has made, they are putting the plaintiff on proof of the allegation. This means that the plaintiff must prove that the claim is true. For example, if the defendant specifically denies that the road traffic accident occurred, the plaintiff must prove it by introducing evidence in court.
When a defendant receives a Civil Bill, they may decide that not only have they done nothing wrong and the claim should not have been brought against them, but that they have a claim against the plaintiff. In those circumstances, they may wish to include a counterclaim with their defence.
To make a claim against the plaintiff, a section titled Counterclaim is added to the Defence. This must clearly set out the allegations that the defendant is making against the plaintiff and what the defendant seeks from the court.
Notice for particulars
A defendant, at any time after being served with a Civil Bill and before delivery of a defence, or a plaintiff, at any time after delivery of a defence or counterclaim, may apply to the other party by a notice in writing for particulars. A notice for particulars is simply a formal request for more information about the case. It contains specific questions or requests.
A request for copies of all or any of the documents upon which the action, defence or counterclaim is founded is made on a Notice requiring copies of documents. A request for information is made on a Notice requiring further information. The requested particulars should be delivered within 7 days of receiving the notice.
For example, in a case involving a road traffic accident, the defendant may send to the plaintiff a notice containing the following questions:
"Was the plaintiff's seat-belt fastened at the time of the accident?"
"Describe the exact location where the accident occurred with the aid of a map".
The notice is usually prepared by the solicitor (sometimes with the advice of a barrister).
If, say, the plaintiff refuses to reply to the notice for particulars or does not give adequate replies, the defendant should write to them identifying the inadequacies and warning of a court application.
If the plaintiff continues to refuse to provide the requested particulars, the defendant may apply to court. If the court agrees that the defendant is entitled to replies to the information requested, the court may order the plaintiff to reply to the notice for particulars.
A notice for particulars may be sent by either party at any stage before the trial.
Case progression is a case management system where specific issues in a dispute are identified and efforts are made to either resolve or narrow those issues prior to trial. The purpose of case progression is to ensure that the proceedings for trial are prepared in a manner which is fair, efficient and likely to keep the costs as low as possible.
A direction that the proceedings be subject to case progression may be given by the County Registrar or the judge where they are satisfied that it would be appropriate to do so. The plaintiff or the defendant can also issue a motion for case progression where they wish to engage in the process.
The County Registrar issues a summons to attend a case progression hearing with the Registrar, giving not less than 21 days’ notice. Not later than 7 days before the hearing, the plaintiff must file at the Circuit Court office an indexed book of pleadings exchanged between the parties and serve a copy of the index on the defendant.
At the case progression hearing, the County Registrar will establish what steps remain to be taken to prepare the case for trial and fix a timetable for the completion of preparation of the case for trial. The Registrar may make orders or give directions with respect to pleadings and other matters. The Registrar may on the application of any of the parties or of the Registrar’s own motion order that the proceedings or any issue therein be adjourned and invite the parties to use mediation, conciliation, arbitration or other dispute resolution process to settle or determine the proceedings or issue.
Setting down for trial
When a defence has been delivered, the plaintiff can serve a notice of trial or a notice for the fixing of a date for trial (in Dublin), as directed by the County Registrar. Not less than 10 days’ notice of trial should be given (21 days’ notice in Dublin), unless otherwise agreed, and the notice should be filed at the Circuit Court office.
It is often the case that other applications are necessary before the action can be set down for trial. These applications are known as interlocutory applications.
If the plaintiff fails to serve notice of trial within 10 days of the delivery of the defence, the defendant can serve notice of trial on the plaintiff. Alternatively, the defendant can apply to the court to dismiss the action for want of prosecution.
The stamp duty that must be paid when a Civil Bill is issued is generally €130. There is no fee or stamp duty for entering an appearance.
The stamp duty that must be paid for lodging a Defence is €15 with a further €15 if there is a counterclaim.
A list of Circuit Court fees is available on the Courts Service website.