District Court

Introduction

The District Court is the lowest court in the Irish court system. It is regulated by the President of the District Court and 64 District Court Judges.

The District Court is organised on a regional basis. There are 23 District Court Districts, as well as the Dublin Metropolitan District. Each District is divided into District Court areas and has one or more judges permanently assigned to it.

The District Court is a court of local and limited jurisdiction. This means it can only make orders or decisions on certain types of civil and criminal cases.

Civil matters

Local jurisdiction

Civil cases must be brought, heard and decided in the correct District Court area.

  • If you are the respondent you must bring the case to the District Court area where you or one of the respondents lives or works

Or

  • If you are the claimant, you can choose a different District Court area depending on the type of case:
    • In proceedings based on contract, you can choose the District Court area where the contract was made
    • In proceedings based on tort (personal injuries actions), you can choose the District Court area where the injury is alleged to have happened
    • In proceedings to evict a person from land or property, you can choose the District Court area where the land or property is located

A District Court cannot hear a case that has not been commenced in the correct District Court area.

Limited jurisdiction

The District Court can only hear civil cases where the requested damages or compensation is less than €15,000. For example, the District Court can hear:

  • Contract cases where the claim does not exceed €15,000
  • Hire-purchase and credit-sale agreement actions where the hire-purchase price of the goods, or the amount of the claim does not exceed €15,000
  • Personal injury cases where the claim for compensation does not exceed €15,000
  • Eviction cases for non-payment of rent, or for remaining in a property after getting a valid notice, if the annual rent does not exceed €15,000 per year
  • Actions for the wrongful detention of goods where the value of the goods claimed does not exceed €15,000

The District Court can also hear civil cases about:

  • Family law, and can make decisions and orders about domestic violence, guardianship, maintenance and child care
  • Enforcing judgements, and it has the power to examine debtors means, order that debts be paid by instalments, and send debtors to prison for defaulting on payments
  • Licensing, for example, granting certificates for intoxicating liquor licences, certificates for auctioneer's, lottery licences, and licences for public dancing

Criminal matters

Local jurisdiction

A criminal case is heard in the District Court area where:

  • The offence was committed, or
  • The accused lives or works, or
  • The accused was arrested

Limited jurisdiction

There are two types of criminal offences:

  • Summary or minor offences, which are tried by a judge sitting alone
  • Indictable or serious offences, which can be tried by a judge and jury

The District Court mainly deals with summary offences, however it can deal with indictable offences in certain situations, see below.

Indictable offences which can be tried summarily

Certain indictable offences can be tried summarily by a judge in the District Court if the following conditions are met:

  • The judge reviews the facts of the case and considers the offence to be a minor offence
  • The accused is informed of their right to be tried by a jury in a higher court but agrees to be tried summarily (by the judge, alone) in the District Court
  • The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) agrees to the summary trial in the District Court

The types of offences that this option applies to are specified in the appropriate legislation.

Indictable offences that may be dealt with summarily

Certain other indictable offences can be tried summarily in the District Court if all the following conditions are met:

  • The accused pleads guilty in the District Court
  • The judge is satisfied that the accused understands the charge
  • The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) agrees that the case can be tried in the District Court

This option is not available for the following offences:

  • Rape
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Murder
  • Treason and piracy

If the judge decides that a case cannot be dealt with by the District Court, the accused person is sent forward to the Circuit Court for sentence. At the Circuit Court, they can withdraw their guilty plea and change it to, not guilty. If this happens, the accused person will face a trial with a jury present.

Indictable offences which cannot be tried summarily in the District Court

Certain cases must be heard by a judge and jury and cannot be tried summarily in the District Court. In these cases, the accused is served with a Book of Evidence, which includes:

  • A statement of the charge
  • A statement of the evidence to be introduced to the court
  • A list of witnesses and exhibits

The District Court Judge will send the accused forward to the Circuit Court or Central Criminal Court for trial once the book of evidence has been served and the DPP has agreed to send the case forward.

Further Information

For more information about the District Court contact:

Courts Service

15-24 Phoenix Street North
Smithfield
Dublin 7
Ireland

Tel: +353 (0)1 888 6000
Page edited: 16 September 2019