High Court (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 sits with judge and 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.


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 are 36 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[edit]

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[edit]

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 High Court has full chancery powers to grant any injunction or declaration that could be granted by a court of chancery. Petitions to windup companies and various company law remedies are heard by the High Court which has exclusive jurisdiction in this area.

The High Court further has exclusive jurisdiction in the area of bankruptcies.

In contentious Probate matters and Family Law the High Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit Court over such claims. Non-contentious Probate motions are heard solely by the High Court.

The High Court has full jurisdiction in Admiralty and can exercise jurisdiction under the Brussels Convention on the Arrest of Seagoing Vessels.

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.

The High Court hears all applications for extradition, both under the European Arrest Warrant system and to non-EU member states.

Appeals from professional disciplinary bodies under the Nurses Act, Medical Practitioners Act and Solicitors Acts are to the High Court.

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

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".

Statutory Appeals on points of law can be made to the High Court from the District Court and various statutory bodies and consultative cases on a point of law can be stated to the High Court from the District Court, various statutory bodies or an Arbitrator hearing an arbitration.


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 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 in 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.


Judges of the High Court deal with both civil and criminal matters, and have full original jurisdiction. When the High Court deals with criminal cases, it sits as the Central Criminal Court.[10]

In court, ordinary judges are directly addressed as "Judge" or in the third person as "The Court". Judges' correct title is "The Honourable Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss Justice Murphy". In writing, this can be abbreviated as "Murphy J." - or "Murphy P." in the case of the president. Prior to 2006, judges were traditionally addressed in court as "My Lord" (whether male or female), although this was never contained in the Rules of the Superior Courts.

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[edit]

President of the High Court[edit]

High Court judges[edit]

Name Since
Paul Carney 1991
Michael Moriarty 1996
Peter Kelly 1996
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
Michael Hanna 2004
Brian McGovern 2006
Peter Charleton 2006
Maureen Clark 2006
John Hedigan 2007
George Birmingham 2007
Mary C. Irvine 2007
John A. Edwards 2007
Patrick J. McCarthy 2007
Garrett Sheehan 2007
John Cooke 2007
Gerard Hogan 2010
Michael White 2011
Kevin Cross 2011
Paul McDermott 2012
Iseult O'Malley 2012
Colm Mac Eochaidh 2012
Anthony Barr 2013
David Keane 2013

Ex officio members[edit]

Name Office
Susan Denham Chief Justice
John L. Murray Former Chief Justice
Matthew Deery President of the Circuit Court

Previous High Court judges (from 1924)[edit]

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
Kevin Lynch 1984–1996
Seamus F. Egan 1984–1991
Robert Barr 1985–2002
Gerard Lardner 1985–1993
John Blayney 1986–1992
John McKenzie 1986–1991
Richard Johnson 1987–2009
Vivian Lavan 1991–2011
Frederick Morris 1990–2001
Declan Budd 1991–2011
Susan Denham 1991–1992
Feargus Flood 1991–2000
Hugh Geoghegan 1992–2000
Dermot Kinlen 1993–2002
Brian McCracken 1995–2002
Mary Laffoy 1995–2013
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
Frank Clarke 2004–2012
John MacMenamin 2004–2012
Elizabeth Dunne 2004-2013
Kevin Feeney 2005–2013
Daniel O'Keeffe 2008–2013

Master of the High Court[edit]

  • Edmund Honohan, SC

Presidents of the High Court since 1924[edit]

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[edit]


  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. ^ Hall, Eamonn G. (2007). The superior courts of law: 'official' law reporting in Ireland, 1866-2006. Dublin: Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Ireland. pp. 521–530. ISBN 9780946738083. 
  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 1-84630-074-6

External links[edit]