A significant change to the functioning of the Civil Courts of Ireland was introduced by the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 and came into operation on 3 February 2014. The enactment of this legislation gave rise to an overhaul of the monetary jurisdictions of the District, Circuit and High Courts of Ireland.
The Circuit Court hears more serious cases and their jurisdiction has increased from a limit of €38,092.13 to €75,000.00 (not including Personal Injuries actions which now have a monetary limit of €60,000.00 in the Circuit Court). All claims valued over €75,000.00 must be instituted in the High Court.
The Circuit Court hears more serious civil cases, more serious criminal cases and a large amount of family law cases. They also hear appeals from the District Court.
Although the normal financial limit to claims brought in the Circuit Court is €75,000 the jurisdiction can be substantially extended if all parties agree in writing.
In addition to the type of actions dealt with the in the District Court, the Circuit Court can also deal with cases involving the administration of the estate of a deceased person, specific performance (such as compelling a person to complete the sale or purchase of property), an action to do with the partition of land and actions following the breakdown of a business partnership.
There are a number of different types of Circuit Court Civil Bill:
- Ordinary Civil Bill
- Equity Civil Bill
- Civil Bill as to Capacity
- Testamentary Civil Bill
- Succession Law Civil Bill
- Landlord & Tenant Civil Bill
- Housing Civil Bill
- Planning Civil Bill
- Election Civil Bill
- Family Law Civil Bill
- Domestic Violence Civil Bill
- Ejection Civil Bill
Most Circuit Court proceedings are dealt with by an Ordinary Civil Bill, which covers most claims in relation to debts, breach of contract and negligence etc.
Service of the Civil Bill
A Civil Bill can be served personally or by registered post or in relation to a company, by ordinary post addressed to the registered office of the company.
If the Civil Bill is served personally, the document can also be served on the defendant’s husband or wife at the defendant’s residence or on a relative or an employee of the defendant, who is over 16.
If there is a problem serving proceedings by registered post or personally then an application can be made for substituted service or alternatively the defendant’s solicitor can accept the service of proceedings on behalf of the defendant.
If the defendant is residing outside the country then a separate application has to be made to the Circuit Court setting out details of the claim and the reason why proceedings should be served outside Ireland.
Once the Civil Bill has been served, the following documents may be exchanged:
This is a short document simply stating that the defendant tends to defend the claim. Generally speaking if a defendant does not lodge an appearance with both the Circuit Court office and the plaintiff within 10 days, then the plaintiff is entitled to obtain judgement in default of appearance.
Quite often a 14 day warning letter is sent to the defendant stating that if their Appearance is not lodged within 14 days then judgement may be obtained.
Notice for Particulars:
This is a document sent by the defendant to the plaintiff setting out a series of questions, the aim of which is to obtain more information concerning the exact nature of the claim being made against the defendant.
If there is a delay in replying, then the normal practice would be for a further 14 day warning letter to be sent to the defendant stating that if Replies are not received within 14 days then a separate pleading known as a Motion will issue seeking to strike out the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant or to compel the plaintiff to reply to the Notice for Particulars.
In the event that unsatisfactory replies are sent to the defendant, then the defendant may be at liberty to send a further document entitled Notice for Further & Better Particulars and again the same 14 day time limits apply.
Again there are strict time limits for the delivery of defence and if the defence is not received then the normal procedure would be that a 14 day warning letter would issue calling on the defendant to lodge their defence failing which a Motion will issue seeking judgement in default of defence.
In many cases where a Defence is lodged, a Counterclaim is also lodged. For instance, if a debt is alleged to be due, the defendant can deny that the debt is due and can counterclaim alleging for example that while money might be due for the repair to a car, the defendant can counterclaim because the repairs were carried out negligently and caused further losses to the injured party. Counterclaims are often issued with a defence in divorce proceedings and the effect of a counterclaim is much the same as the original civil bill itself in that the other party can raise a Notice for Particulars and can lodge a defence to a counterclaim.
A lodgement of a sum of money can be made into court by a defendant and the judge will not know that a lodgement has been made. The aim of the lodgement is to try and persuade the other party to settle the case. If plaintiff does not accept the lodgement and the case proceeds to a fully contested hearing and the award is less than the sum lodged, then this fact will then be brought to the judge’s attention and if the eventual award does not beat the lodgement then the plaintiff can be penalised by having costs awarded against them from the date of the lodgement. This is often a substantial incentive to persuade a plaintiff to settle the case.
This is the procedure whereby a plaintiff or a defendant can be compelled to produce a list of all documents relevant to the action and ultimately to hand over copies of all relevant documents.
Notice to Produce:
This is a less complicated and less expensive procedure than the Discovery procedure and this involves the service of a document requiring the other party to bring with them to the hearing of the action all documents relevant to the hearing of the action. The problem with this course of action is that it does not give the other side very much time to consider the content of the document or to raise any issues arising from the content of the documents.
Joining Third Parties:
During the course of the exchange of pleadings, a situation can often arise where it is necessary to join a third party to a case and in these circumstances the Court has to give permission to serve a Notice on the third party and the court has to be persuaded that it is essential that they are named as a third party. The third party is then given copies of all relevant documents.
Notice of Trial:
When all pleadings have concluded then either party can serve a Notice of Trial and the case is eventually called on for hearing. There are substantial delays in various Circuit Court jurisdictions around the country but in certain areas cases can be called on relatively quickly.
Prior to the hearing, witnesses can be subpoenaed to attend court and notices can be served to admit certain facts or certain documents as evidence at the hearing.
Judgement in the Circuit Court is often given immediately following the actual hearing of the action. In some cases however judgement can be reserved and it could be several weeks or months before the final decision is made. Either party then has a period of 10 days from the date of any final order to appeal that order to the High Court.