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.
Mr Justice Richard Johnson succeeded Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan as President of the High Court in December 2006, and was himself succeeded by Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns in October 2009. Mella Carroll was the first woman to serve on the court and did so between 1980 and 2005.
High Court Judges:
Judges of the High Court deal with both civil and criminal matters. When the High Court deals with criminal cases it sits as the Central Criminal Court.
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.
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 third court in Ireland to bear that name. The first High Court 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.
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 encactment 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.