The Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Ireland

imageFrom looking at the blog’s twitter following, its statistics and other indicators, it seems that an increasing number of readers are from outside of Ireland or do not have a legal background. For the benefit of those readers, I want to outline the constitutional role of the Supreme Court of Ireland.

The Constitution of Ireland (1937) established the Superior Courts: the High Court, which is a court of first instance (trial court), and the Supreme Court as the court of final appeal. Prior to the 33rd Amendment to the Constitution in 2013, which established the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court held jurisdiction to hear all appeals from the High Court (subject to limitation as prescribed by law). That jurisdiction was not discretionary: the Supreme Court had to take all appeals regardless of merit–except in circumstances such as where an appellant could not make an arguable case, where an appeal was determined to be an abuse of process or where an appeal was restricted by statute. That led to a larger than manageable caseload and an average four year wait in getting an appeal to hearing.

Subsequent to the 33rd Amendment, the Court of Appeal now has jurisdiction to hear all appeals from the High Court (subject to limitation as prescribed by law). Appeals to the Supreme Court are now subject to a grant of leave (permission) by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is still working through some of its backlog of appeals, but the establishment of the Court of Appeal will eventually have the effect that the Supreme Court will hear fewer cases, of greater legal significance, while the Constitution still retains the right to one appeal from the High Court, to the Court of Appeal.

An appeal from the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court must involve a matter of general public importance or it must be necessary in the interest of justice that an appeal is allowed. The Constitution still permits an appeal from the High Court directly to the Supreme Court for the same reasons and where there are exceptional circumstances warranting the leap-frogging of the Court of Appeal. The evolving jurisprudence on the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court suggests that the Supreme Court does not have discretion to refuse an appeal where an appellant has established that a case meets the constitutional threshold for an appeal.

Significantly, subsequent to the 33rd Amendment, the Constitution no longer permits the Óireachtas (Ireland’s legislature) to exclude the right of appeal to the Supreme Court. See Kelly v UCD (here). Therefore, where the Óireachtas has restricted the right of appeal from the High Court to the Court of Appeal an appeal to the Supreme Court may be permissible, if “the decision involves a matter of general public importance” or where an appeal is in “the interests of justice”. Article 34.5.4°. See Grace & Sweetman v An Bord Pleanala, blog post & determination, where the Supreme Court determined that a restriction on the right to appeal from the High Court to the Court of Appeal may provide the exceptional circumstances which would warrant an appeal direct from the High Court to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court assesses applications for leave to appeal upon written submissions. Generally, there is no oral hearing at application stage. The Supreme Court publishes a written determination following each application outlining its reasons for allowing leave, or not. Those determinations can be accessed on the Courts Services’ website (under Determinations, here) and usually provide links to copies of each parties’ submissions. This is a welcome development, as it is now possible to find out in advance what issues are subject to appeal in any given case.

In addition to jurisdiction to “determine all matters and questions whether of law or fact, civil or criminal”, the Constitution provides the Superior Courts with jurisdiction to hear any action challenging the validity of any law. Furthermore, the Constitution prohibits the Óireachtas from enacting any law which would limit the power of the Superior Courts to decide the validity of any law.

The Supreme Court’s decisions in all cases are final and conclusive and are binding on all lower courts.

 

Article 34 of the Constitution (as amended):

34. 1 Justice shall be administered in courts established by law by judges appointed in the manner provided by this Constitution, and, save in such special and limited cases as may be prescribed by law, shall be administered in public.

34. 2 The Courts shall comprise:

i Courts of First Instance;
ii a Court of Appeal; and
iii a Court of Final Appeal.

34. 3. 1° The Courts of First Instance shall include a High Court invested with full original jurisdiction in and power to determine all matters and questions whether of law or fact, civil or criminal.

2° Save as otherwise provided by this Article, the jurisdiction of the High Court shall extend to the question of the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of this Constitution, and no such question shall be raised (whether by pleading, argument or otherwise) in any Court established under this or any other Article of this Constitution other than the High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court.

3° No Court whatever shall have jurisdiction to question the validity of a law, or any provision of a law, the Bill for which shall have been referred to the Supreme Court by the President under Article 26 of this Constitution, or to question the validity of a provision of a law where the corresponding provision in the Bill for such law shall have been referred to the Supreme Court by the President under the said Article 26.

4° The Courts of First Instance shall also include Courts of local and limited jurisdiction with a right of appeal as determined by law.

34. 4. 1° The Court of Appeal shall—

i save as otherwise provided by this Article, and
ii with such exceptions and subject to such regulations as may be prescribed by law,

have appellate jurisdiction from all decisions of the High Court, and shall also have appellate jurisdiction from such decisions of other courts as may be prescribed by law.

2° No law shall be enacted excepting from the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal cases which involve questions as to the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of this Constitution.

3° The decision of the Court of Appeal shall be final and conclusive, save as otherwise provided by this Article.

34. 5. 1° The Court of Final Appeal shall be called the Supreme Court.

2° The president of the Supreme Court shall be called the Chief Justice.

3° The Supreme Court shall, subject to such regulations as may be prescribed by law, have appellate jurisdiction from a decision of the Court of Appeal if the Supreme Court is satisfied that—

i the decision involves a matter of general public importance, or
ii in the interests of justice it is necessary that there be an appeal to the Supreme Court.

4° Notwithstanding section 4.1° hereof, the Supreme Court shall, subject to such regulations as may be prescribed by law, have appellate jurisdiction from a decision of the High Court if the Supreme Court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances warranting a direct appeal to it, and a precondition for the Supreme
Court being so satisfied is the presence of either or both of the following factors:

i the decision involves a matter of general public importance;
ii the interests of justice.

5° No law shall be enacted excepting from the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court cases which involve questions as to the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of this Constitution.

6° The decision of the Supreme Court shall in all cases be final and conclusive.

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4 Comments

  1. Marion McCann

     /  April 20, 2017

    I understand that a statutory appeal arising from the RTRB Tribunal to the High Court on a point of law is final and conclusive as per the law. However, can the High Court ruling not be appealed to the Supreme Court??? – Is there a link that clarifies same ??
    With thanks Marion

    Like

    Reply
    • There are two criteria for an appeal from the High Court to the Supreme Court:

      1) the case must involve a point of law of general public importance (that is, a legal issue that needs clarification and that is likely to apply to other cases); and,
      2) there must be exceptional circumstances (the fact that no appeal is available to the Court of Appeal may fulfill this criteria).

      Like

      Reply
      • Marion McCann

         /  April 21, 2017

        Thanks for previous reply ….

        scenario – regarding calculation of monies owing by tenants/landlord …how calculate ??

        where Let Agreement required group of 5 tenants to pay deposit, rent and utilities globally .i.
        o pay deposit as one group payment of €1500;
        not complied with – deposits paid individually by five tenants of €300 each
        o pay rent as one weekly payment via direct debit
        not complied with by 2 tenants who owe landlord rent arrears of €500
        o utilities – set up management account to pay utilities
        not complied with – same 2 tenants owe landlord €500
        o 3 tenants honoured their obligations re payment of deposit, rent and utilities and settled
        amicably
        o 2 tenants failed to honour their obligations re payments
        – rent arrears for said 2 tenants being €250 each – total €500
        – utilities owing €175 each – total €350

        ??? what money is owing to 2 tenants/landlord and why ???

        With thanks

        Like

      • Marion McCann

         /  April 22, 2017

        scenario – regarding calculation of monies owing by tenants/landlord …how calculate ??

        where Let Agreement required group of 5 tenants to pay deposit, rent and utilities globally .i.
        o pay deposit as one group payment of €1500;
        not complied with – deposits paid individually by five tenants at €300 each
        o pay rent as one weekly payment via direct debit
        not complied with by 2 tenants who owe landlord rent arrears of €500
        o utilities – set up management account to pay utilities
        not complied with – same 2 tenants owe landlord €500
        o 3 tenants honoured their obligations re payment of deposit, rent and utilities and settled amicably
        o 2 tenants failed to honour their obligations re payments
        rent arrears for said 2 tenants being €250 each – total €500
        utilities owing €175 each – total €350

        ??? what money is owing to 2 tenants/landlord and why ???

        With thanks M
        not sure if this posted earlier – so apologies if this is a duplicate .. M

        Like

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