There are eight circuits in the State. Outside of Dublin and Cork, the Circuit judges travel through the circuit hearing cases in the principal towns in the circuit in accordance with regular scheduled sessions, up to four times a year in each town. There are full time standing Circuit Courts in Dublin and Cork. There are thirty-seven Circuit Court judges.
The administration of the Circuit Court is undertaken by the Circuit Court office which is presided over by the County Registrar. The County Registrar also has certain functions similar to those of judges in relation to certain pre-trial stages of Circuit Court cases. There are twenty-six circuit court offices and County Registrars.
The rules as to practice and procedure in the Circuit Court are set out in the Circuit Court Rules. They are amended and updated from time to time. They are made by a committee, whose members include representatives of various groups involved in the court processes, such as judges, barristers and solicitors.
The Circuit Court has jurisdiction at the intermediate level, between the District Court and the High Court. The Circuit Court hears appeals from the District Court. This involves a total rehearing of the case
There is a wide variety of civil claim (i.e. claims between private individuals) which may be bought in the Civil Court. This includes the following
- civil wrong claims (e.g. accidents
- contract, restitution and debt claims
- planning law enforcement;
- challenges to wills and administration of deceased person’s assets;
- business tenancy matters;
- most land law disputes;
- family matters;
- intoxicating liquor licences
- other licences
In debt, breach of contract and compensation cases (in practice, a very high proportion of all cases) the Circuit Court has jurisdiction up to a maximum €75,000. The parties can consent to the Circuit Court hearing a case for damages above this level. They are special rules for personal injury cases. The Circuit Court has jurisdiction (i.e. power to hear) land cases where the value of the property does not exceed €3,000,000.
A large proportion of the more serious criminal cases are also heard by the Circuit Court. They are usually heard with a judge and jury. Criminal business in the Circuit Court is heard at separate sessions to hearings of civil claims.
The requirements in relation to Circuit Court documents are more exacting than those for Civil Summons in the District Court but less so than in the case of a High Court documents. There are separate special rules relating to personal injury claims which are dealt with separately.
The claim form in the circuit court is called a Civil Bill. There are slightly different types of Civil bill for particular types of claim. An Ordinary Civil Bill relates to claims for civil wrongs and breach of contract. An Equity Civil Bill relates to claims based on equitable grounds or seeking equitable remedies. Other types of Civil Bill are laid down in the Circuit Court Rules for particular types of case or application.
The Civil Bill contains details about the claim plaintiff \’s (claimant\’s) and the defendant\’s name, their address and occupation. It also sets out the particulars; the facts and circumstances on which the claimant relies to establish his case. It sets out the remedy or court order claimed. This is commonly damages, being compensation for loss incurred. In some cases, the return of property or orders compelling a person to do or refraining from doing a particular (an injunction) is sought.
The Civil Bill document is prepared by the claimant’s solicitor. A barrister will commonly draft the claim. The Circuit Court office seals and issues the Civil Bill gives it a record number. A fee is payable to the Circuit Court office on a set scale.
Service of the Civil Bill
The Civil Bill can be served personally by giving a copy to the defendant, his spouse or person over 16 years of age at his or her residence. Most Civil Bills are served by registered post sent to the defendant’s last known address or place of business. If it is not accepted it is returned by An Post.
In the case of a company, the Civil Bill can be sent to the company’s registered office by ordinary post. In this case, it may not necessarily be returned, in which event, it may be possible to obtain judgment without further or any notice.
Where service cannot be undertaken using the above methods, it is possible to make a one-sided application to the court to serve by an alternative means, such as ordinary post. It must be shown for example, that the defendant is trying to avoid being served and that the alternative means is likely to ensure that the Civil Bill comes to his attention.
If a solicitor is already acting for the defendant, which will commonly be the case with commercial disputes, the summons is properly served, if a solicitor acting for the defendant undertakes to accept service of the Civil Bill.
There are special rules for service of a Civil Bill out of Ireland. The rules are broadly similar to those in the District Court. It is possible to serve proceedings in EU states without the consent of the court. The consent of the court must be obtained in relation to service outside the EU country and number of other countries which are party to an international convention on the matter.
In EU cases, a document equivalent to the civil bill is served abroad. There are certain mechanisms by the assistance other EU authorities may be invoked. The time limits for response are longer.
Once a Civil Bill is served a declaration (sworn statement) is completed.
The Civil Bill notifies the defendant that he must respond to the claim in the Civil Bill within a certain time by “entering” an appearance. This involves acknowledging receipt by notifying the court and the plaintiff. If he fails to do so, the plaintiff may obtain a judgment against the defendant, (in some cases) without further recourse or notice.
Once served with a civil bill, the defendant must an appearance if he is willing and able to defend the claim. This is a simple document which acknowledges receipt of the proceedings. It must generally be sent to the Circuit Court Office and plaintiff / his solicitor within 10 days The period can be extended, with the consent of the claimant or permission of the court.
The relevant time limits are longer sure the defendant is abroad. There are thirty-five days for entry of an appearance after receipt of notice of the proceedings. The period is 42 days in the non-European territory of an EEA state. It is possible to enter an appearance for the sole purpose of contesting jurisdiction (i.e. the authority of the court to hear the claim). It is not possible to contest jurisdiction if an unconditional appearance is entered
Strictly speaking, the defence to the claim must be entered within 10 days of the entry appearance ( possibly after certain later responses e.g. to notice for particulars).
The defendant may seek further details of the claim by correspondence, If this is not responded to or if the response is insufficient, the defendant can apply to the court to compel a response. The court may so order if the further particulars are reasonably required. Ultimately the defendant\’s claim may be dismissed or frozen for want of response
There are specific requirements in personal injury cases. See our separate chapter on personal injury procedures.
The Circuit Court Rules requires that the defence must be filed within 10 days of appearance or delivery of replies to notice for particulars. In practice, these time limits are often extended by agreement.
A court fee is payable. The papers need not be filed with the Circuit Court at that point.
If the defendant himself has a claim against the plaintiff, he can make a counter-claim with his defence. The plaintiff may in turn reply to the counterclaim is a manner analogous to a defence.
Once the defence has been delivered and any further steps such as discovery have been undertaken, the claimant’s solicitor must serve a Notice of Trial together with the other papers in the Circuit Court office. The defendant’s solicitor may serve the Notice of Trial if the claimant does not do so. Generally, the parties will be represented so that service will involve an exchange of correspondence between their solicitors
The party requesting the trial date must be ready for the hearing and must ensure that all pre-trial matters have been finalised. The court officers must be advised of the likely duration of the trial.
Outside of Dublin, the service of the Notice of Trial causes the action to be listed for the next sittings for the relevant area. In Dublin, the trial date is given by the Circuit Court office. It is then served by the claimant’s solicitor on all parties.
A witness summons can be issued by the Circuit Court office to compel the attendance of a witness. It must be served personally or by registered post. A sum of money to cover the expenses of attending must be given. Reasonable notice must be given. A witness who fails to attend, having been summoned, can be compelled to attend by the court, under pain of contempt of court.
The course of the hearing in the Circuit Court is broadly similar to that in other courts. See the articles in relation to the trial and hearing of disputes. The Circuit Court judge makes his order after a trial. Exceptionally, he may reserve judgment for a period.
Default of Response
If the claim is for a definite fixed or “liquidated” amount and if no appearance is entered, a judgment (court order) for the sum due may be obtained from the Circuit Court offices without a trial. Certain papers must be filed, including an affidavit swearing the debt, proof of service etc See our separate articles in relation to debt collection proceedings.
Where the claim is not for a fixed or ascertainable sum, the plaintiff may make an application to have the damages or claim assessed, in the absence of the defendant. The claimant must bring evidence to prove his claim and allow the judge to assess loss /damages. The judge may allow the claim in the terms sought by the Civil Bill.
If the defendant has failed to enter an appearance or has entered an appearance but not defence, a. motion for judgment in default of appearance or defence may issue. In the case of an unliquidated claim, a warning period must be given of the intention to seek judgment in default.
If an appearance or defence is not issued entered within the warning period (usually 14 days) the plaintiff\’s solicitor can issue a motion for judgement in default. On the motion hearing, judgment may be given if the requisite proof of service, default and evidence of claim is given.
A Circuit Court case can be appealed to the High Court. The High Court rehears the case in full. It is possible to apply to transfer a case in the Circuit Court at the High Court (and in reverse where this is appropriate to the level of the claim.
Each county circuit Court office is presided over by a County Registrar. Since the mid-1990s, County Registrars have been given increased powers to hear interim applications in court cases. Often, the threat of such an application will be sufficient to enable parties to agree to the necessary steps Sometimes, however, there are disputes as to, for example, as to documents which must be revealed and disclosed to the other side.
The County registrar hears a variety of applications in the course of a Circuit Court cases including an application for extension of time, service, discovery, disclosure and production of documents. It is possible to appeal such orders to the Circuit Court judge.
Rules for active case progression by the court have been recently introduced in the Circuit Court for certain types of proceeds These follow the approach found in the Irish Commercial Court, England and the United States. Case management involves the court taking a more active role in supervising and managing the proceedings. At present, it applies to certain more complex claims. This is likely to be extended.
The County Register or judge may make directions in the case of his own accord at any listing hearing. The purpose is to ensure that the case is prepared for a trial in a way that is just, expeditious, will minimise costs and use court resources best. In most category of cases, the case is listed before the County Registrar for case progression. The parties must file papers in advance.
The County Registrar may seek that the matters in dispute are narrowed and defined.v The County Register must establish what steps remain to be taken to prepare for the trial. He may fix a timetable for preparation of the case or adopt a timetable proposed by the parties. He may make orders in relation to exchange the information, discovery and inspection. He may seek information in relation to the duration and arrangements for the trial. He makes such orders are appropriate.
The County Registrar may direct a witness to consult with other party’s witnesses for the purpose of identifying and agreeing issues where possible. He may require that witnesses record a joint memorandum of the particulars and the outcome of their discussions.
The case progression application can be adjourned as necessary to entice and place pressure on parties to use mediation, conciliation and arbitration or other dispute resolution. Generally, counsel’s fees are not allowed in case progression cases.