The country is divided into eight circuits for the purposes of the Circuit Court.
The Circuit Court consists of the President of the Court and 37 ordinary judges.
One Circuit Judge is assigned to each circuit, except in the case of the Dublin and Cork Circuits. Ten judges can be assigned to the Dublin Circuit and 3 to the Cork Circuit.
The President of the Circuit Court, who is also an additional Judge of the High Court, has the duty of ensuring an equitable distribution of the work of the Circuit Court amongst the several judges and the prompt despatch of business.
Under the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 provision was made for a maximum of 8 new specialist judges to facilitate the speedy consideration of insolvency applications.
The Circuit Court is a court of local and limited jurisdiction. 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 Circuit Court increased to €75,000 (was €38,092.14) with effect from 3 February 2014. For personal injury actions the limit is €60,000.
A Circuit Court cannot hear a case that has not been commenced in the correct County.
The case must be brought, heard and decided in the County
- in proceedings based on tort (e.g., personal injuries actions), where the tort is alleged to have been committed or where the defendant or one of the defendants ordinarily resides or carries on any profession, business or occupation;
- in proceedings based on contract, where the contract was made or where the defendant or one of the defendants ordinarily resides or carries on any profession, business or occupation;
- in proceedings to eject a person from lands or property, where the lands or property in question are located;
- in family proceedings, where the applicant resides;
- under the probate jurisdiction and for administration of estates of deceased persons, where the testator or intestate at the time of his death had a fixed place of abode;
- under the lunacy jurisdiction, where the person of, or alleged to be of, unsound mind ordinarily resides.
Civil cases in the Circuit Court are tried by a judge sitting without a jury.
The Circuit Court is restricted to hearing cases where the damages or compensation sought do not exceed a certain amount.
The Circuit Court has jurisdiction, i.e., it can hear and decide cases:
- in actions in contract and tort where the claim does not exceed €75,000 (€60,000 for personal injury actions)
- in actions for defamation where the claim does not exceed €75,000
- in probate matters and suits for the administration of estates, where the market value of the real estate does not exceed €3,000,000
- in equity suits, where the market value of the land does not exceed €3,000,000
- in ejectment actions or applications for new tenancies (fixing of rent, etc.,) where the market value of the property does not exceed €3,000,000
- 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 €75,000
- in family law proceedings, (including judicial separation, divorce, nullity and appeals from the District Court). Where the market value of the property exceeds €3,000,000, the parties may opt to transfer the case to the High Court.
- in all cases of application for new liquor on-licence (i.e., licences for sale of liquor for consumption on the premises) and has appellate jurisdiction from decisions of arbitrators in disputes in relation to Ground Rents under the Landlord and Tenant legislation
- in respect of applications under the former Workmen's Compensation Code, i.e., in cases where the right to compensation arose prior to 1st May 1967
- in appeals from the District Court in both civil and criminal matters. The appeal takes the form of a re-hearing and the decision of the Circuit Court is final and not appealable
In criminal matters, the Circuit Court Judge sits with a jury of twelve. A verdict need not be unanimous in a case where there are not fewer than eleven jurors if ten of them agree on a verdict after considering the case for a reasonable time (not less than two hours).
The criminal jurisdiction is exercised by the judge of the Circuit in which
- the offence was committed or
- where the defendant resides or carries on business or
- where the defendant was arrested,
However, the Circuit Judge may transfer a criminal trial from one part of his/her Circuit to another.
On application by the Director of Public Prosecutions or the accused, the Circuit Judge may, if satisfied that it would be manifestly unjust not to do so, transfer the trial from the Circuit Court sitting outside of the Dublin Circuit to the Dublin Circuit Court.
The Constitution specifies that all non-minor offences must, in general, involve a trial with a jury.
All minor criminal cases are heard in the District Court summarily (i.e., without a jury). The Circuit Court has the jurisdiction to hear all non-minor offences, except murder, rape, aggravated sexual assault, treason, piracy and related offences.