The Irish Free State established an entirely new system of courts under the Courts of Justice Act, 1924. The broad structure of the system of courts remains much the same today.
Following a constitutional case, it was necessary to formally re-establish the courts under the Constitution in 1961. However, they follow the same structure, as had been laid out in the 1924 legislation.
The order of precedence of judges after establishment of the Court of Appeal is as follows;
- The Chief Justice ranks first amongst judges;
- the President of the Court of Appeal shall rank after the Chief Justice;
- the President of the High Court shall rank after the President of the Court of Appeal;
- then shall rank the judges of the Supreme Court who are former Chief Justices each accordingly to priority of his or her appointment as Chief Justice;
- next shall rank the other judges of the Supreme Court, other than the ex officio judges of that Court, each according to priority of his or her first appointment as an ordinary judge of the Supreme Court;
- then shall rank the judges of the Court of Appeal who are ex officio judges of the Supreme Court (being former Presidents of the Court of Appeal or of the High Court) each according to priority of his or her appointment as President of the Court of Appeal or of the High Court respectively;
- next shall rank the judges of the High Court who are ex officio judges of the Supreme Court (being former Presidents of the High Court), each according to priority of his or her appointment as President of the High Court;
- then shall rank the other judges of the Court of Appeal each according to priority of his or her first appointment as an ordinary judge of that Court;
- next shall rank the other judges of the High Court, other than the ex officio judges of that Court , each according to priority of his or her first appointment as an ordinary judge of the High Court;
- then shall rank the President of the Circuit Court by virtue of being an additional judge of the High Court;
- next shall rank the other judges of the Circuit Court who are ex officio judges of the High Court
The President of the High Court may sit as a Supreme Court Judge, as may former Presidents who are still High Court judges. The President of the High Court is a High Court judge and will usually sit as such.
Judges of the courts are addressed in the manner provided by rule of court.
A judge of the High Court or Supreme Court cannot be removed save for “stated misbehaviour or incapacity” . This may only follow a resolutions passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, as required by the Constitution. Judges of the Circuit Court and District Court hold on the same terms. This are provided for by statute and not the Constitution.
A judge must be independent. The Constitution provides that no judge is eligible to be a member of either House of the Oireachtas. A judge may not “hold any other office or position of emolument.”
The number of High Court, District Court and Circuit Court judges is fixed by law. As and when it is necessary to increase the number, legislation is required. The Courts of Justice Acts are amended from time to time for this purpose.
There is provision for appointment of judges on a temporary basis. They must qualify for appointment as judges. They must be barrister or practising solicitor of 10-years’ standing. They may be assigned such Circuits as the Minister for Justice from time to time requires.
Temporary District judges may be appointed. They must be practising solicitors or barristers of at least six year standing.
The High Court, Circuit Court and District Court circuits are specified by law. The Government may alter circuits and districts from time to time. This is done by statutory instruments.
The sittings for various types of business are specified from time. The Minister has power to vary and abolish a District Court districts and district court area.
The Courts and Court Officers Act 1995 establish the Judicial Appointments Board. It applies to appointments to the judicial office in any of the Supreme Court, High Court, Circuit Court or District Court. It does not apply to appointment as President of the relevant Courts and to appointment of existing judges to other judicial offices.
The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board consists of the Chief Justice, who is the chairperson, the Presidents of the High Court, Circuit Court, and District Court, Attorney-General, a practising barrister nominated by the Bar Council, a practising solicitor nominated by the President of the Law Society and three persons appointed by the Minister having knowledge or experience of commerce, finance, administration or persons who have experience as consumers of court services. Persons in the latter category are appointed for three-year term.
The Board adopts its own procedures. It may advertise for applications for judicial appointment. It may require persons to complete applications and attend interviews. It may consult and do such things as is necessary, in order to fulfil its functions. In advising the President on the appointment of persons to judicial office, the Government must consider appointment of persons who have been recommended to the Minister by the Board.
The Board may recommend a candidate for appointment only, it is of the opinion that he or she has displayed in their practice as a barrister or solicitor, a degree of competence and probity appropriate to and consistent with the appointment concerned. In the case of appointment to the Superior Courts, the person must be shown to have the appropriate knowledge and experience of the practice and procedure of the Superior Courts. They must be suitable on the grounds of temperament and comply with other conditions.
In determining qualification with the above criteria, the Board shall have regard in particular to the nature and extent of the practice of the person concerned insofar as it relates to his or her personal conduct of proceedings in the Superior Courts, whether as an advocate or solicitor, instructing counsel or both.
A person who is a judge of an international court, such as the Court of Justice, Court of First Instance, European Court of Human Rights, International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court must vacate that office before being appointed to judicial office in Ireland.
A person who wishes to be considered for appointment to judicial office must, if appointed undertake to take such courses of education and ongoing education as may be required by the Chief Justice or President of the relevant court.
The Judicial Appointment Board reports annually to the Minister. When the Government proposes to advise the President on appointment of the Chief Justice or President of the High Circuit or District Court, it shall have regard firstly to the qualifications and the suitability of persons who already stand appointed as a judge.
Judicial offices may resign by writing addressed to the President and transmitted to the Taoiseach. Where a judge is appointed to another office, he is deemed to have vacated his earlier office.
There is provision whereby the Minister for Justice may request the Chief Justice to appoint a judge to investigate the health, physical or mental condition of a judge or to inquire into his conduct, whether in the execution of his office or generally.
The Chief Justice, a Judge of the Supreme Court or with the consent of the President of the High Court, a Judge of the High Court, may to inquire into the matter. The judge so appointed may conduct the investigation as he thinks proper, whether by examination of witnesses or otherwise. It may be done in camera.
The level of remuneration of judges is set by law. It is charged on the Central Fund and subject to the limited provision in that regard in the Constitution it may not be altered. There is a statutory pension scheme for judges.
The Constitution provides that the salary of judges may not be decreased. This provision was amended in 2011, in order to provide for decreases in accordance with general decreases in the level of remuneration of higher civil servants. The scheme provides for pensions on retirement at retirement age or due to disability together with survivors’ pensions.
Judges and court officers may surrender part of their pension in return for a spouse or dependent element of the pension. Historically, judicial pensions accrued at a generous rate over time, reflecting the fact that judges are typically appointed at a relatively late age.
The 2001 Judicial Offices and Oireachtas Members (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act provided the remuneration of judicial salaries are to increase in line with and on the same basis as that of senior civil servants.
The retirement age for Judges of the Supreme Court and High Court is 70.
The age of retirement of a Circuit Court judge is 70. The Circuit Court exercises jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. Subject to limitations, it has the same jurisdiction as the High Court in relation to wards of court matters, subject to monetary limitations which were in practice, quite low.
District Judges retire at 65 years of age. There is provision for extension of their tenure on an ongoing basis if they are fit to continue in office.
Judges and senior court officials accrue their pension entitlements over shorter periods than generally is the case; usually 15 to 20 years. This period is 15 years in the case of High Court or Supreme Court judges, after 15 years they become entitled to 2/3rds of remuneration.
Where they retire due to age, permission, infirmity, after five years they retire with a pension of 1/6th of the remuneration on vacation of office, together with 1/20th for every completed year of service in excess of five.District Court judges who retire after 20 years of service become entitled to a pension of two-thirds of their final remuneration. A similar uplift applies after five years, entitlement to 1/6th of remuneration.
The Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2012, provided that newly appointed judges, at whatever level, must serve 20 years in order to to qualify for a full pension, rather than 15 years as is the case for existing judges of the Supreme Court, High Court and Circuit Court respectively.
Prior to that Act, only District Court Judges were required to serve 20 years in order to qualify for a full pension. Newly appointed judges have been required to pay a pension contribution of 13% instead of the 4% contribution payable by existing members of the judiciary, prior to the 2012 legislation. This is in addition to the general public service pension levy of 10% introduced in 2009 and the special 4% contribution for officeholders introduced in 2010.