High Court procedures
In the High 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's barrister generally prepares an originating summons. The purpose of this document is to state the case being made against the defendant.
When the defendant receives the summons, they must enter an appearance to show that they are now a party to the case.
Depending on the type of originating summons, the plaintiff may have to serve a statement of claim on the defendant. When the defendant has received the statement of claim, they will issue a defence, setting out why the defendant is not to blame.
Usually proceedings in the High Court are commenced by an originating summons.
After the summons has been prepared by your barrister, your solicitor takes it to the Central Office to be issued - this involves paying the stamp duty. After the stamp duty has been paid, the summons is stamped and it is ready to be served on the defendant. There is more information on service below.
Types of originating summons
There are 4 types of originating summons:
- A plenary summons is used to commence proceedings where there is a real dispute between the parties and/or the amount of the plaintiff's claim is not specific or easy to calculate. For example, a plenary summons may be used where the plaintiff claims that their property was damaged due to the defendant's negligence. When a plenary summons is issued, the next step is for the parties to exchange pleadings (see statement of claim and delivering the defence below). Eventually, the case will be given a date for a trial and there may be evidence given by witnesses.
- A summary summons is used when the amount of the plaintiff's claim is easily quantifiable and the defendant does not have any valid defence. For example, a summary summons may be used where the plaintiff claims that they lent the defendant a specific amount of money that has not been repaid. It is a fast-track procedure where the judge decides the case after reading affidavits submitted by both sides. However, if it becomes clear to the judge that the defendant has a stateable defence to the claim, the judge may order that the case be dealt with as plenary proceedings. This means that pleadings will be exchanged and the matter may go to trial.
- A special summons is used for cases that involve pure issues of law or very specific issues of fact. For example, a special summons will be issued to commence a claim relating to the administration of the estate of a deceased person. Like summary proceedings, this is a fast-track procedure where the judge decides the case by reading affidavits submitted by both sides.
- A personal injuries summons is used for cases where the plaintiff claims that they have been injured due to acts or omissions of a defendant. Before issuing a personal injuries summons, you must first apply to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. You should also issue a letter of claim to the defendant within 2 months of becoming aware of the injuries.
There is more information on originating summons on the Courts Service website.
Content of an originating summons
All originating summonses must contain the following information:
- A title – the plaintiff's name and the defendant's name make up the title of the proceedings.
- The type of the summons, for example, plenary summons.
- A description of the parties – the summons must state the surname, first name, the residence or place of business and the occupation of the plaintiff. It must also state the name and address of the defendant (or their solicitor, if known).
- An indorsement of claim – this is the part of the summons that sets out what the plaintiff claims they are entitled to. The level of detail necessary in this section depends on the type of summons. If the summons is a plenary summons, it is only necessary to give the defendant information about the general nature of the plaintiff's claim – more detail will be provided in the statement of claim that follows. If the summons is a summary summons or a special summons, much more detail must be given about 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 amount that the plaintiff claims they are entitled to.
Serving an originating summons
To serve an originating summons, a copy of the summons can be handed to the defendant and they must be shown the original. The summons can be served on the defendant's solicitor if they accept service on behalf of their client and is authorised to do so. It is also possible to serve a summons by sending it via registered post to the defendant’s last known residence or place of business. There is more information on serving a summons in Order 9 of the Rules of the Superior Courts.
Entering an appearance
When a defendant receives a plenary or a summary summons they should enter an appearance within 8 days. This time limit is not strict and, in most cases, an appearance can be entered after the time has expired.
When a defendant receives a special summons they may enter an appearance at any time. They will not be heard at any proceedings unless they have entered an appearance.
Entering an appearance is a very important step as it indicates that the defendant intends to defend the proceedings.
To enter an appearance, the defendant must lodge a memorandum of appearance at the Central Office. The plaintiff's solicitor must then be notified by the defendant that an appearance has been entered.
Memorandum of appearance
The short form must contain the following information:
- The date
- The name of the defendant's solicitor. If the defendant does not have a solicitor, it must state that the defendant defends in person.
- The form must also give the solicitor's address. If the defendant does not have a solicitor, it must state an address where documents can be left for them.
Statement of claim
If the case has been commenced by a plenary summons and the defendant has entered an appearance, then the next step is for the plaintiff to serve a statement of claim on the defendant.
The plaintiff has 21 days to deliver the statement of claim after the defendant has entered an appearance. If the plaintiff fails to deliver the statement of claim within the required time, the defendant can apply to the court to dismiss the action for want of prosecution. Normally, the plaintiff must warn the defendant that they intend to make such an application.
It is not necessary to serve the statement of claim personally on the defendant – it may be sent by registered post.
The purpose of the statement of claim is to show the defendant the case that is being made against them and which they have to meet at the trial of the action.
Content of statement of claim
The statement of claim must contain the following information:
- The title and record number – the plaintiff's name and the defendant's name make up the title of the proceedings.
- A description of the parties – the statement of claim must state the surname, first name, the residence or place of business and the occupation of the plaintiff and the defendant.
- The statement of claim 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 statement of claim must be dated and signed by the plaintiff or their solicitor.
Further information is available in Order 20 of the Rules of the Superior Courts.
Delivering the defence
The defendant must deliver a defence to the plaintiff and they must deliver the defence within 28 days of receiving the statement of claim. This time limit is not strict and, in most cases, a defence can be delivered after the time has expired.
When they receive the statement of claim 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.
The defence contents
There are no set rules about what must be contained in the defence. The document starts with the title of the proceedings and the record number.
It is up to the defendant to admit or deny the allegations that the plaintiff has made in their statement of claim. 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 permitted 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, it will be assumed that the defendant is admitting that the allegation is true. For example, if the plaintiff has claimed in the statement of claim that they were 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 defence specifically denies that the road traffic accident occurred, the plaintiff must prove it by introducing evidence in court.
If the defendant wishes to make a claim against the plaintiff, this can be done by adding a counterclaim section 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.
Delivering a reply
It is often necessary to reply to points raised in a defence. If the plaintiff wishes to deliver a reply, they must do so within 14 days of receiving the defence unless the time is extended by the Court.
Where a counterclaim has been delivered by the defence, the reply is subject to the rules that apply to a defence.
Further information is available in Order 23 of the Rules of the Superior Courts.
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 has failed to acknowledge the proceedings and indicate that they intend to defend them, the plaintiff may obtain a judgment from the court against the defendant without the need for a trial.
Where either plaintiff or defendant is unsure of the case they have to meet, they can seek particulars. It is a request for more information about the case. They can also seek further and better particulars about any matter stated in any pleading.
Further information is available in Rules 7 and 8 of Order 19 of the Rules of the Superior Courts.
Setting down for trial
In general, in actions commenced by plenary or personal injuries summons a notice of trial (Form 18, 18A or 19) is served by the plaintiff on the defendant and is set down for trial in the Central Office. At least 21 days’ notice must be given, unless shorter notice has been agreed. A motion to set aside the notice of trial must be brought within 4 days of the service of the notice.
If the plaintiff does not give notice of trial within 6 weeks after the close of the pleadings, or within such extended time as the Court may allow, the defendant may give notice of trial or may apply to the Court to dismiss the action for want of prosecution.
Notice of trial is given before setting down the action for trial. If the action is not set down by either party within 14 days of notice of trial being served, the notice of trial will no longer be in force.
The party setting down the proceedings for trial does so by delivering to the Central Office a copy of the notice of trial together with 2 copies of the whole of the pleadings (and of any letter or notice for particulars and reply to it), one of which is for the use of the judge at the trial. It may also be necessary to file a certificate of readiness.
Further information is available in Order 36 of the Rules of the Superior Courts.
The stamp duty that must be paid when a summons is issued is generally €190. The stamp duty for entering an appearance is €60.
There is no fee or stamp duty for lodging a defence.
Further information on High Court fees is available on the Courts Service website.