Courts of the Republic of Ireland

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The courts system in the Republic of Ireland consists of the Supreme Court, the High Court and a number of lower courts. The Republic is a common law jurisdiction and trials for serious offences must usually occur before a jury. The High Court and the Supreme Court have authority, by means of judicial review, to determine the compatibility of laws and activities of other institutions of the state with the constitution and the law. Except in exceptional circumstances, court hearings must occur in public.

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A simplified diagram of the courts system
Contents

Superior courts

The Supreme Court and the High Court are established by the constitution. The Supreme Court is defined as the "Court of Final Appeal" but usually only hears appeals on points of law. Its decision as to the interpretation of the constitution and the law is final. The High Court also has authority to interpret the constitution. It also tries the most serious criminal and civil cases and hears certain appeals from lower courts. When sitting as a criminal court it is called the Central Criminal Court; its trials occur before a jury.

Lower courts

The Supreme Court and the High Court are the only courts specifically required by the constitution. Other courts are established by law. Beneath the superior courts are the Circuit Court and the District Court. The Circuit Court deals with matters that must be tried before a jury. The District Court deals only with minor matters that may be tried summarily.

The constitution provides for only two fora in which a serious crime may be tried in the absence of a jury. A trial before a military tribunal may occur without a jury, and the constitution also grants the Oireachtas (parliament) broad authority to establish "special courts" that may try serious offences in the absence of a jury, whenever it considers this to be in the interests of justice or public order. Such a court has been established in the form of the Special Criminal Court, which has been used to try those accused of being members of paramilitary organisations (such as the Provisional IRA) or of leading organised crime.

Appointment of judges

Judges are appointed by the President, acting on the binding advice of the Government (cabinet). The procedure for removing a judge of the Supreme Court or High Court from office is specified in the constitution, but by law the same mechanism applies to judges of the lower courts. A judge may only be removed from office for "stated misbehaviour or incapacity" and if a joint resolution is adopted by both houses of the Oireachtas (parliament). After such a resolution is approved the judge is dismissed by the President. The remuneration of a judge may not be diminished while they remain in office.

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