The High Court (Irish: An Ard-Chúirt) of Ireland is a court which deals at first instance with the most serious and important civil and criminal cases, and also acts as a court of appeal for civil cases in the Circuit Court. It also has the power to determine whether or not a law is constitutional, and of judicial review over acts of the government and other public bodies.


The High Court is established by Article 34 of the Constitution of Ireland, which grants it "full original jurisdiction in and power to determine all matters and questions whether of law or fact, civil or criminal", as well as the ability to determine "the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of this Constitution". Judges are appointed by the President. However, as with almost all the President's constitutional powers, these appointments are made under "the advice of the Government". In practice, this means that the judges are nominated by the government and automatically approved by the President.

There can be at most 32 ordinary High Court judges, however the president of the Circuit Court and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court are ex officio judges of the High Court. Cases are normally heard by one judge, but the President of the High Court may order that a particular case be heard by three judges sitting together - a so-called divisional court.

The court normally hears cases in the Four Courts building in Dublin, although it also has regular sittings outside the capital.

Richard Johnson succeeded Joseph Finnegan as President of the High Court in December 2006, and was himself succeeded by Nicholas Kearns in October 2009. Mella Carroll was the first woman to serve on the court and did so between 1980 and 2005.

Criminal cases:

The High Court is known as the Central Criminal Court (Irish: An Phríomh-Chúirt Choiriúil) when it is hearing a criminal case. The Central Criminal Court has original jurisdiction for the following criminal offences:

treason, (as well as aiding or concealing treason)
murder (as well as attempted murder and conspiracy to murder)
capital murder of a Garda or prison officer acting in the course of their duty
a severe breach of the Geneva Conventions
anti-Competitive Behaviour or Abuse of Dominant Market Position
rape and other serious sexual offences

All Central Criminal Court cases are heard in front of a jury of twelve. The defendant can be convicted on a majority verdict of ten jurors. Appeals from the Central Criminal Court can be made to the Court of Criminal Appeal, and the sentence can be appealed as well as the verdict.

Civil cases:

The High Court is the court of first instance for all civil cases where the plaintiff is claiming more than €38,092.14 (IR£30,000 late currency) in damages, this being the upper limit of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court. By virtue of its full original jurisdiction under the Constitution, however, theoretically a civil action of any value may commence in the High Court. The Court also has power of judicial review over the acts of the government and other public bodies, including the decisions of all inferior courts, and decisions made by tribunals of inquiry.

Any non-criminal judgment or order of the High Court sitting as a court of first instance may be appealed to the Supreme Court.


The current High Court is the fourth court in Ireland to bear that name. The first High Court - the High Court of Justice in Ireland - was created by the Supreme Court of Judicature (Ireland) Act 1877. This fused the administration of common law and equity in Ireland (as had been done in England several years earlier under the Judicature Acts). The existing four superior courts, the Court of Kings Bench, Court of Chancery, Court of Exchequer, and Court of Common Pleas were merged to form the High Court of Justice, although they remained as divisions of the new court. However, in Ireland, the divisions of the High Court other than the King's Bench Division and Chancery Division were abolished by 1907. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 split the court in separate courts for Northern Ireland (the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland and the High Court of Justice in Southern Ireland). Judges of the existing Court became judges of the Southern Ireland court unless they elected otherwise. With the enactment of the Constitution of the Irish Free State, the High Court became the High Court of Justice in Saorstat Éireann.

After independence, the Courts of Justice Act 1924 created a new courts system. The High Court of Justice was the only court from the pre-independence era to keep its name (and substantially, the same jurisdiction). However, the divisions were now completely abolished and any judge of the High Court could now hear any suit at either common law or equity. A new office of President of the High Court was established, as the previous judicial offices (Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Vice-Chancellor, and Master of the Rolls of Ireland) were abolished under this Act. Most of the existing judges retired at this time and new judges were appointed.

After the enactment of the Constitution of Ireland, the Courts Acts 1961 established a new High Court as required by the Constitution. However this Court was in both form and name substantially identical to that established under the 1924 Act. This court is simply known as the High Court.

High Court judges:

Judges of the High Court deal with both civil and criminal matters, and have jurisdiction at both common law and equity. When the High Court deals with criminal cases it sits as the Central Criminal Court.

Male judges of the Court are titled e.g. "The Honourable Mr Justice John Smith", while female judges are (depending on preference) "The Honourable Mrs/Ms/Miss Justice Jane Smith" or similar. Traditionally judges of the superior courts were addressed as "My Lord" in Court, although this was never contained in the Rules of the Superior Courts, which mandated that they be addressed by their respective titles or names, or as "The Court". Since 2006 use of the traditional form has been discouraged in favour of the form in the Rules, although continued use of "My Lord" is not unknown. In law reports, the President is cited e.g. "Smith P" while other judges are cited "Smith J". The President of the Circuit Court may sit as an additional High Court judge and occasional other Circuit Court Judges are temporarily assigned to sit ex-officio as High Court judges. The Chief Justice of Ireland is additionally an ex-officio judge of the High Court.

Current High Court judges:

President of the High Court:

Nicholas Kearns (since 2009)

High Court justices:

Vivian Lavan (since 1989)
Paul Carney (since 1991)
Declan Budd (since 1991)
Mary Laffoy (since 1995)
Michael Moriarty (since 1996)
Peter Kelly (since 1996)
John Quirke (since 1997)
Iarfhlaith O'Neill (since 1999)
Roderick Murphy (since 2000)
Daniel Herbert (since 2000)
Paul Butler (since 2000)
Henry Abbott (since 2002)
Eamon de Valera (since 2002)
Mary Finlay Geoghegan (since 2002)
Michael Peart (since 2002)
Barry White (since 2002)
Paul Gilligan (since 2003)
Seán Ryan (since 2003)
Elizabeth Dunne (since 2004)
Michael Hanna (since 2004)
John Mac Menamin (since 2004)
Frank Clarke (since 2004)
Kevin Feeney (since 2005)
Brian McGovern (since 2006)
Peter Charleton (since 2006)
Maureen Clark (since 2006)
John Hedigan (since 2007)
Bryan MacMahon (since 2007)
George Birmingham (since 2007)
Mary C. Irvine (since 2007)
John A. Edwards (since 2007)
Patrick J. McCarthy (since 2007)
Garrett Sheehan (since 2007)
Daniel O'Keeffe (since 2007)
John Cooke (since 2007)
Gerard Hogan (since 2010)

Ex-Officio members:

John L. Murray, President of the Supreme Court
Matthew Deery, President of the Circuit Court

Previous High Court judges (from 1924):

Timothy Sullivan (1924-1936)
James Creed Meredith (1924-1936)
Thomas O'Shaughnessy (1924-1925)
William E. Wylie (1924-1936)
William J. Johnston (1924-1939)
James A. Murnaghan (1924-1925)
Henry Hanna (1925-1943)
John O'Byrne (1926-1940)
Conor Maguire (1936)
George Gavan Duffy (1936-1951)
William Black (1939-1942)
Martin C. Maguire (1940-1954)
Kevin Haugh (1942-1961)
Andrew Kingsbury Overend (1943-1947)
Cahir Davitt (1945-1966)
Kevin Dixon (1946-1959)
T. C. Kingsmill Moore (1947-1951)
Charles Casey (1951-1952)
Frederick O. Budd (1951-1965)
Richard McLoughlin (1952-1969)
George D. Murnaghan (1954-1979)
Thomas Teevan (1954-1971)
Brian Walsh (1959-1961)
John Kenny (1961-1975)
Sean Butler (1966-1980)
Alfred D. Pringle (1969-1974)
Frank Griffin (1971-1973)
Thomas Finlay (1972-1985)
John Gannon (1973-1990)
Tom O'Higgins (1973-1974)
Kenneth Deale (1974)
Liam Hamilton (1974-1994)
Weldon Roycroft Cecil Parke (1974-1976)
Thomas A. Doyle (1974-1984)
James G. McMahon (1975-1986)
Herbert R. McWilliam (1976-1985)
Declan Costello (1977-1998)
James A. D'Arcy (1977-1986)
Ronan Keane (1979-1996)
William Roche Denny Ellis (1979-1983)
Donal Barrington (1979-1989)
Mella Carroll (1980-2005)
Roderick O'Hanlon (1981-1995)
Edward Walsh (1981-1982)
Henry Barron (1982-1997)
Francis Murphy (1982-1996)
Kenin Lynch (1984-1996)
Seamus F. Egan (1984-1991)
Robert Barr (1985-2002)
Gerard Lardner (1985-1993)
John Blaney (1986-1992)
John McKenzie (1986-1991)
Richard Johnson (1987-2009)
Frederick Morris (1990-2001)
Susan Denham (1991-1992)
Feargus Flood (1991-2000)
Hugh Geoghegan (1992-2000)
Dermot Kinlen (1993-2002)
Brian McCracken (1995-2002)
Peter Shanley (1996-1998)
Catherine McGuinness (1996-2000)
Thomas C. Smyth (1996-2008)
Diarmuid O'Donovan (1996-2007)
Philip O'Sullivan (1997-2006)
Kevin C. O'Higgins (1997-2008)
Matthew P. Smith (1998-2004)
Cyril C. Kelly (1998-1999)
Nicholas Kearns (1998-2004)
Fidelma Macken (1998-1999)
Aindrias Ó Caoimh (1999-2004)
Joseph Finnegan (1999-2001)
Liam McKechnie (2000-2010)
Seán O'Leary (2003-2006)
Fidelma Macken (2004-2005)

Edmund Honohan, SC:

Presidents of the High Court since 1924:

The office of President of the High Court was created under the Courts of Justice Act 1924. Before 1924, the Master of the Rolls in Ireland was the President of the High Court.

Timothy Sullivan (1924-1936)
Conor Maguire (1936-1946)
George Gavan Duffy (1946-1951)
Cahir Davitt (1951-1966)
Aindrias Ó Caoimh (1966-1974)
Thomas Finlay (1974-1985)
Liam Hamilton (1985-1994)
Harry Whelehan (15 November 1994-17 November 1994)
Declan Costello (1995-1998)
Frederick Morris (1998-2001)
Joseph Finnegan (2001-2006)
Richard Johnson (2006-2009)
Nicholas Kearns (2009-)