The courts system
There are five main courts in Ireland:
- The District Court
- The Circuit Court
- The High Court
- The Court of Appeal
- The Supreme Court
In criminal cases the Circuit Criminal Court operates in place of the Circuit Court, and the Central Criminal Court and the Special Criminal Court operate in place of the High Court.
Articles 34 to 37 of the Irish Constitution deal with the administration of justice in general and outline the structure of the court system. Article 34.1 states that: "Justice shall be administered in courts established by law..."
The District Court has jurisdiction over minor civil and criminal matters. You can appeal the outcome of a case heard in the District Court to the Circuit Court.
The Circuit Court has jurisdiction in more serious civil and criminal matters. You can appeal the outcome of a case heard in the Circuit Court to the High Court.
The High Court also has jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters. For example, the most serious criminal offences, such as murder, are dealt with by the High Court. The High Court is regulated by a President of the High Court. You can appeal the outcome of a case heard in the High Court to the Court of Appeal or in some instances directly to the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeal hears appeals from the High Court in civil cases and the Circuit Criminal Court, the Central Criminal Court and the Special Criminal Court in criminal cases.
The Supreme Court was set up as the final court of appeal and is regulated by the Chief Justice.
Though courts can have jurisdiction over both civil and criminal matters, the Special Criminal Court only deals with criminal cases. This court was set-up to hear cases about paramilitary, subversive and organised crimes, but much of its workload now involves organised crime cases. This court sits with 3 judges and no jury, in order to avoid jury intimidation.
The Irish Constitution also provides for the setting up of special courts where the best interest of justice would not be served in a normal court, for example, the Children Court and the Drug Treatment Court.
The Courts Service was set up under the Court Service Act 1998 to manage the courts and court buildings, and to provide information about the operation of the courts.