The Supreme Court formerly heard all appeals from the High Court, as the sole appeal court designated by the Constitution. A backlog of up to four years had developed in Supreme Court appeals, due to the significant increase in the number of appeals from the High Court. This followed the fourfold increase in the number of High Court judges (from 9 in 1977) which itself reflected a greatly increased number of cases over the previous 35 years.
The Constitution was amended by referendum on 4th October 2013, in order to allow for the establishment of the Court of Appeal. The Constitution provides that he Court of Appeal shall save as otherwise provided, and 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.
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. The decision of the Court of Appeal shall be final and conclusive, save as otherwise provided by this Article.
The Court of Final Appeal is the Supreme Court. 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 the decision involves a matter of general public importance, or it is in the interests of justice it is necessary that there be an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeal is the superior court of record with such appellate/appeal jurisdiction as is prescribed by the Constitution. The Court of Appeal lies between High Court level and the Supreme Court level in the hierarchy of courts.
The Court of Appeal absorbed the Court of Criminal Appeal which has been constituted under the Courts of Justice Act on the foundation of the State to hear appeals from both the Circuit Court and the High Court (sitting as the Central Criminal Court.) in criminal matters.
The Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act 1961 was amended by providing for a Court of Appeal. The legislation provides for regulations to deal with anticipated difficulties that may arise in bringing to the legislation and a new Court of Appeal system into force.
The Court has a President and nine ordinary judges. The judges of the Court of Appeal are appointed by the President on the advice of the Government. The Chief Justice and President of the High Court are members by virtue of their office.
The President of the Court of Appeal is a member of an additional judge of the other superior courts by reason of his office. Ordinary judges of the Supreme Court or the High Court may act as additional judges of the Court of Appeal where due to illness or for other good reason, there are insufficient judges to conduct the business of the Court of Appeal.
The provisions in respect of appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal are similar to those in respect of appointments to the superior courts generally. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board submits names to the Minister for consideration by the Government. Serving judges in other courts are not required to go through this process.
The provisions in respect of remuneration of judges are similar to those in the other superior courts. The same provisions in respect of pensions and for alterations of salary, under the circumstances referred to the Constitution apply. A judge’s normal retirement age is 70 years. There are equivalent provisions in respect of retirement on the grounds of incapacity and removal on the grounds of state of misconduct as apply to other superior court judges.
The order of precedence of judges of the Court of Appeal is set out relative to other courts and judges is set out. The President of the Court of Appeal ranks after the Chief Justice. He ranks before the President of the High Court.
Generally the judges of the Court of Appeal rank after the judges of the Supreme Court. The order of precedence is varied in the case of judges of courts who have held other offices. The judges of the Court of Appeal rank before the judges of the High Court.
The judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court are addressed in the manner to be determined by rules.
The office of President of the Court is held for a seven years’ time. Where there are insufficient judges of the High Court to transact business ordinary judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal may sit to hear High Court business
Subject to the Constitution and to the legislation, the Court of Appeal have the same jurisdiction which was vested in the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeal and Court Martial Appeal Court. It is Superior Court of record. The court may sit in divisions of three judges. The number of divisions may sit simultaneously.
Interlocutory applications may be heard by the President sitting alone or by other judges nominated for that purpose. There is provision for a single judgement in criminal cases. This reflects the practice of the Court of Criminal Appeal and the Special Criminal Court.
The Court of Appeal embraces the existing Court of Criminal Appeal which had been established on the foundation of the State, in succession to the equivalent pre-independence predecessor.
There are provisions, in exceptional circumstances for proceedings before the court to be stayed to enable a party apply to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal the decision of a High Court under Article 34.5 of the Constitution. If the Supreme Court grants the application, the proceedings before the court of Court of Appeal are to be discontinued and the appeal is to be heard in the Supreme Court.
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.
It is a precondition for the Supreme Court being so satisfied is the presence of either or both of eithers that the decision involves a matter of general public importance or that it is in the interests of justice. The decision of the Supreme Court shall in all cases be final and conclusive.
The Supreme Court
The Chief Justice, with the concurrence of the other Judges of the Supreme Court, the 28th October 2014, having been appointed as Establishment Day of the Court of Appeal, gave a Direction on the 29th October 2014 under the provisions of Article 64 3 1° of the Constitution, specifying the class of appeals pending in the Supreme Court which will transfer to the Court of Appeal.
As a result of the direction, 327 appeals certified as ready for hearing (“certified appeals”) will be retained by the Supreme Court, and 258 certified appeals will transfer to the Court of Appeal.
The general right of appeal from the High Court to the Supreme Court is replaced by a general right of appeal to the Court of Appeal. An appeal to the Supreme Court lies from decisions of the Court of Appeal and the High Court where the Supreme Court is satisfied that the relevant jurisdictional thresholds set out in the Constitution are met.
The Supreme Court’s new jurisdiction is complemented by statutory powers to facilitate case management of appeals, and a new procedural regime comprised of revised rules of court and a practice direction issued by the Chief Justice in the interests of the administration of justice and the determination of proceedings in a manner which is just, expeditious and likely to minimise costs.
Court of Criminal Appeal
Appeals from the Court of Criminal Appeal to the Supreme Court remain with the Supreme Court. Appeals pending in the Court of Criminal Appeal which have not been fully or partly heard as of the Establishment Day transfer to the Court of Appeal. There are 142 sentence appeals ready for hearing, 75 appeals from conviction ready for hearing, and 346 uncertified appeals.
Appeals which have been fully or partly heard in the Court of Criminal Appeal and remain to be determined will be determined by the Court of Criminal Appeal, which will continue in existence until those appeals are disposed of. There are 26 such appeals.
There is vested in the Courts of Appeal the appeal jurisdiction vested in Supreme Court prior to the establishment of court and the jurisdiction formerly vested in the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Where the Court of Appeal is exercising jurisdiction in criminal matters, then unless the matter relates to validity of a law under the Constitution the decision of the majority is the decision of the court. It is pronounced by such of the judges as the court shall direct. No dissenting judgement is allowed.
There is provision for active case management by the President of the Court of Appeal or by a judge nominated by him. The President of the Court of Appeal is given statutory jurisdiction to issue practice directions
Rules of court may be made for the Court of Appeal. Additional members are appointed to the Superior Courts Rules committee. The general provisions applicable to the making of rules of courts apply to the Court of Appeal.
The office of the Registrar of the Court of Appeal is established. His functions are similar to the those of the registrars in the Supreme Court and High Courts. The provisions applicable to court officers generally in the Superior Courts apply.
Practice directions may relate to civil and criminal matters. They may relate to classes of proceedings. They may make supplementary and consequential additional amendments as appear necessary or expedient.
The exercise of pleading practice and procedure in the Court of Appeal including liability as to costs is to be exercised where there is no specific rule in the matter as nearly as possibly in the same manner as it might have been exercised by the courts or judges which previously had jurisdiction (generally the Supreme Court).