Composition of the Court
The Supreme Court is composed of the Chief Justice of Ireland, who is President of the Court, and nine ordinary Judges. In addition the President of the High Court is ex officio a member of the Supreme Court.
The Court usually sits with a composition of three or five Judges and, exceptionally, seven Judges. When hearing cases concerning the constitutional validity of an Act of the Oireachtas (parliament) the Constitution requires that the Court consists of a minimum of five Judges. This constitutional requirement also applies when the Court is requested to give an opinion on the constitutional validity of a Bill adopted by the Oireachtas when referred to it by the President of Ireland under Article 26 of the Constitution. A minimum of five Judges is also required should the Court have to determine, pursuant to Article 12 of the Constitution, whether the President has become permanently incapacitated.
Generally speaking, a court of three Judges sits in appeals concerning interlocutory or procedural matters or issues which can be decided within the parameters of established case law. In addition to those cases in which it is required by the Constitution, a court composed of five Judges, or exceptionally seven Judges, will sit for appeals involving questions of law of particular importance or complexity. Where an insufficient number of Judges of the Supreme Court are available the Chief Justice may request any ordinary Judge of the High Court to sit as a member of the Supreme Court for the hearing of a particular appeal.
Order of Precedence among the Judges
The Courts (No. 2) Act 1997 provides for the order of precedence between judges of the Supreme Court as follows:
||the Chief Justice shall rank first;
||the President of the High Court shall rank after the Chief Justice;
||next shall rank any Judge of the Supreme Court who is a former Chief Justice;
||next shall rank the other Judges of the Supreme Court each according to priority of appointment as an ordinary Judge of the Supreme Court.