Supreme Court of Ireland

Introduction

Article 34 of the Irish Constitution sets down that the courts system will include a Court of Final Appeal. This Court of Final Appeal is known as the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice and 9 ordinary judges. The President of the Court of Appeal and the President of the High Court are additional judges of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court usually sits in the Four Courts in Dublin.

Generally, appeals to the Supreme Court are heard and decided on by 5 judges. However, the Chief Justice can direct that any appeal or other matter is heard and decided on by 3 judges, or in exceptional cases 7 judges. The exception to this, is matters relating to the Constitution, which must be heard by a minimum of 5 judges.

Jurisdiction

The Supreme Court has the following functions:

  • It hears appeals from the Court of Appeal if the Supreme Court is satisfied that:
    - the decision involves a matter of general public importance, or
    - in the interests of justice it is necessary that there is an appeal to the Supreme Court
  • It hears appeals from the High Court if the Supreme Court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances that call for a direct appeal to it. The Supreme Court must be satisfied that:
    - the decision involves a matter of general public importance, or
    - it is in the interests of justice
  • It is a constitutional court, as it is the final decision-maker in interpreting the Constitution of Ireland
  • It can end the President's term of office, if five Supreme Court judges or more decide that a President has become permanently incapacitated
  • It can check the constitutionality of a Bill referred to it by the President, that has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas

In cases where a proposed Bill has been referred to the Supreme Court it is heard before seven judges. A barrister represents the Office of the Attorney General, arguing the Bill is constitutional and should remain as it is. The Court appoints another barrister to set out the reasons why the Bill is unconstitutional and should not be enacted.

In cases examining whether or not a Bill is constitutional, the Supreme Court makes one decision and this decision is final. If the Court finds that the Bill is contrary to the Constitution, it cannot be enacted into law as it stands.

Further information

Further information on the Supreme Court is available at supremecourt.ie.

Page edited: 20 September 2019