High Court (Ireland)

High Court (Ireland)
Coat of arms of Ireland

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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. When sitting as a criminal court it is called the Central Criminal Court and there is a jury. It 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.

As to the Supreme Court, it is defined as the Court of Final Appeal, but usually hears appeals only on points of law. Its decisions as to the interpretation of the Constitution and the law are final.



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.[1] 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:

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 High Court also hears civil and family law appeals from the Circuit Court and when hearing such an appeal its decision is final and there is no right of further appeal. The High Court sits outside of Dublin to hear appeals from trials from circuits other than the Dublin Circuit and is known as the "High Court on Circuit".

The High Court can also hear an appeal on a point of law by way of case stated from the District Court in both civil and criminal matters and can decide consultative cases sent from judges of that 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 Act (Ireland) 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 King's Bench (Ireland) , 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 the establishment of the Irish Free State, 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.[9] 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.[10]

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

High Court justices

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

Ex-officio members

Name Office
Susan Denham President of the Supreme Court
Matthew Deery President of the Circuit Court

Previous High Court judges (from 1924)

Name Term of office
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
Seán 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 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 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

Master of the High Court

  • 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.[11] Before 1924, the Master of the Rolls in Ireland was the President of the High Court.[12]

Name Term of office
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 15–17 Nov 1994
Declan Costello 1995–1998
Frederick Morris 1998–2001
Joseph Finnegan 2001–2006
Richard Johnson 2006–2009
Nicholas Kearns 2009–present

See also


  1. ^ http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/1007/1224256099847.html
  2. ^ Treason Act 1939
  3. ^ a b Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961
  4. ^ Criminal Justice Act 1964
  5. ^ Genocide Act 1973
  6. ^ Geneva Conventions Act 1973
  7. ^ Competition Act 2002
  8. ^ Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990
  9. ^ http://www.courts.ie/Courts.ie/Library3.nsf/pagecurrent/8B9125171CFBA78080256DE5004011F8?opendocument&l=en
  10. ^ The Superior Courts of Law: 'Official' Law Reporting in Ireland 1866-2006, Eamonn G. Hall, Pages 521-530 ISBN780946738083
  11. ^ The Superior Courts of Law: 'Official' Law Reporting in Ireland 1866-2006, Eamonn G. Hall. pages 519-520
  12. ^ The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921, Francis Erlington Ball ISBN 1846300746

External links

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