The High Court has jurisdiction to hear every claim and in theory could hear a claim for a debt of a few thousand Euro. However while the High Court has original jurisdiction to deal with any and every case, if a person were to bring a claim in the High Court that could properly have been dealt with in the District Court, then almost definitely that person will be severely penalised when the judge makes a decision in relation to costs.
In the normal course of events therefore claims in the High Court commence with the following documents:
- Plenary Summons:This document is used where there is a claim for damages in excess of €38,092.14. This summons covers most claims in tort and breach of contract.
- Personal Injury Summons:This is used in all cases where an injury has been suffered and this includes fatal injury actions.
- Summary Summons:This is the procedure normally used for debt collection.
- Petition:This is a procedure used for winding up limited companies and a different type of petition is used for judicial separation and divorce in the High Court.
- Notice of Motion:This is a specific type of procedure where an application is being made for an injunction under planning legislation.
Once the original summons issues, documents are then exchanged and they are quite similar to the documents exchanged in Circuit Court actions. They are generally as follows:
- Plenary Summons (or other originating summons):This document must be served within 12 months of the date it is issued from the Central Office of the Four Courts. The relevant date is on the first page of the summons.
- Appearance:The defendant must enter an Appearance within a short period of time and if it is not entered then the normal procedure is that a 21 day warning letter will be sent warning the defendant that if an Appearance is not entered then the plaintiff will be entitled to seek judgement.
- Statement of Claim:In most cases, an application for judgement cannot however be made unless a statement of claim has been lodged. The statement of claim sets out in detail the nature of the claim and the orders sought. In a summary summons case where an attempt is being made to recover a debt, an affidavit is prepared setting out the grounds upon which the plaintiff says the money is due and this is used as the grounds for making an application for judgment.
- Notice for Particulars:At this stage the defendant can serve a Notice for Particulars, which will set out a number of questions attempting to specify the exact nature of the claim.
- Replies to Notice for Particulars:The plaintiff would normally have 21 days to reply but often this period is extended and again, the defendant can apply to have the plaintiff’s claim struck out or can seek an order compelling them to reply to a Notice for Particulars if they are slow in doing so.
- Defence:A defence is then lodged by the defendant and this can often be accompanied by a lodgement of a sum of money, which the defendant believes is sufficient to satisfy the plaintiff’s claim. While this can happen generally does not happen and the claim will then proceed.
- Reply to Defence:It is not essential to reply to a defence in every single High Court case but there is often a necessity to reply to points raised in the Defence, particularly if they are novel points or controversial points.
- Discovery:Once the main pleadings have concluded then this will be the appropriate time for either party to write to the other and call on them to prepare a list of relevant documents and ultimately to hand over copies of these relevant documents. This is the procedure open to either the plaintiff or the defendant and if the other party does not comply with the request within a reasonable period of time, normally 21 days, then it is open to the other party to make an application to court to seek an Order for Discovery.
- Interrogatories:This is a procedure whereby one party obtains from the other party information concerning relevant facts and in particular to obtain admissions concerning certain facts so that they do not then have to be specifically proven at the hearing.
- Setting Down:Once all the above matters have been attended to, then the case is set down for trial and can be called on for trial.
- Witnesses:Witnesses can then be subpoenaed to attend a hearing provided they are given a reasonable period of time to make the necessary arrangements and provided a payment known as viaticum is paid to them to cover expenses such as travelling expenses, subsistence expenses etc., they must attend the hearing.
- The Trial:Most High Court actions are dealt with by a judge sitting on his own but certain cases such as defamation cases can be heard by a judge with a jury. Once the case has concluded, the judge can made his order there and then or he might reserve his judgement. The Registrar will subsequently contact the solicitors on both sides and inform them that the judge is ready to deliver judgment.
- Appeal:An appeal from the High Court is to the Supreme Court and an appeal must be lodged within 21 days of the perfection of the High Court order. This is not the same as 21 days from the date of judgement. The relevant date is when the written judgement has been signed by the judge and made available to the parties.