The courts system in Ireland has its origins in the 1922 Constitution which was enacted on the foundation of the Irish Free State. That Constitution provided for the setting up of new courts to replace those which had evolved under the British administration. New courts were established in 1924 under the Courts of Justice Act, 1924 which established the legal basis for a court system.
The present courts were set up by the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act 1961 pursuant to Article 34 of the Constitution adopted by the Irish people in 1937.
Articles 34 to 37 of the Constitution deal with the administration of justice in general. Article 34.1 states that 'Justice shall be administered in Courts established by law'. The Constitution outlines the structure of the court system as comprising a court of final appeal (the Supreme Court), a Court of Appeal, and courts of first instance which include a High Court with full jurisdiction in all criminal and civil matters and courts of limited jurisdiction, the Circuit Court and the District Court organised on a regional basis.
Structure of the courts chart
Judges are completely independent in the performance of their functions and on their appointment take the oath set out in Article 34.6.1 as follows -
"In the presence of Almighty God, I do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my knowledge and power execute the office of Chief Justice (or as the case may be) without fear or favour, affection or ill-will towards any man, and that I will uphold the Constitution and the laws. May God direct and sustain me."
In relation to criminal trials, Article 38 states that 'No person shall be tried on any criminal charge save in the due course of law'. Minor offences are tried in courts of summary jurisdiction while a person accused of a more serious offence cannot be tried without a jury. The Constitution also makes provision for the establishment of Special Courts to secure the effective administration of justice where the ordinary courts would be unable to do so. The public are welcome to enter all courts except those displaying the 'in camera' sign which means that the case is not open to the general public.
Reviewed on: 7 November 2014