Jurisdiction of the Court
Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court, established pursuant to Article 34 of the Constitution of Ireland, is the court of final appeal.
Jurisdiction transferred to the Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal exercises appellate jurisdiction "with such exceptions and subject to such regulations as may be prescribed by law" from all decisions of the High Court, and from such decisions of other courts as may be prescribed by law, occupying a new appellate jurisdictional tier between the High Court and the Supreme Court.
In effect, appeals in civil proceedings from the High Court which prior to the Thirty-third Amendment would have been heard by the Supreme Court now lie to the Court of Appeal, except for those cases in which the Supreme Court has permitted an appeal to it on being satisfied that the appeal meets the threshold set out in Article 34.5.4 of the Constitution. Under the Court of Appeal Act 2014, the Court of Appeal was given the appellate jurisdiction previously exercised by the Court of Criminal Appeal, and questions of law which could previously be referred by the Circuit Court to the Supreme Court for determination (a "case stated") are now determinable by the Court of Appeal.
Under the transitional arrangements comprised in the Thirty-third Amendment, the Chief Justice was empowered, if satisfied that it is in the interests of the administration of justice and the efficient determination of appeals to do so, with the concurrence of the other Judges of the Supreme Court, to direct that specified appeals pending in the Supreme Court which had been initiated before the establishment day and had not been fully or partly heard by that court shall be heard and determined by the Court of Appeal.
The Thirty-third Amendment did not affect the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, which in effect consists of the function, under Article 26 of the Constitution. Article 26 provides for a reference to the Supreme Court by the President of Ireland, after consultation with the Council of State, of Bills of the type prescribed in that Article for a decision as to whether any such Bill or specified provision(s) thereof is repugnant to the Constitution. Should the Court decide that the Bill, or any of its provisions, is incompatible with the Constitution it may not be signed or promulgated as law by the President.
The Supreme Court also has limited original jurisdiction under Article 12.3.1 of the Constitution. Article 12.3.1 of the Constitution provides that only the Supreme Court, consisting of not less than five Judges, can establish whether the President of Ireland has become permanently incapacitated.
Article 34.4.5 of the Constitution provides that no law may be enacted excepting from the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court cases which involve questions as to the validity of any law having regard to the provisions of the Constitution. As a result, the Supreme Court may be said to function as a constitutional court as it is the final arbiter in interpreting the Constitution of Ireland. This is a role of particular importance in Ireland, since the Constitution expressly permits the courts to review any law, whether passed before or after the enactment of the Constitution, in order to ascertain whether it is in confirmity with the Constitution. While such cases must be brought in the first instance in the High Court, there is an appeal from every such decision to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Subordinate legislation and administrative decisions may also be subjected to such constitutional scrutiny.
Pronouncement of Decisions
Occasionally, a decision of the Supreme Court is given directly following the hearing of an appeal in an ex tempore judgment. More often, the Court reserves its judgment and delivers it at a later date.
The Supreme Court is a collegiate court, always consisting of a number of Judges. The decision of the Supreme Court is that of the majority. Each Judge in a case may deliver a separate judgment whether concurring or dissenting.
The exception to this practice arises in the case where a Bill is referred to the Supreme Court by the President under Article 26 of the Constitution. In such cases the Constitution provides that the decision shall be pronounced by such Judge as the Court shall direct and that no other opinion on such question shall be pronounced nor shall the existence of any such other opinion be disclosed.
Administration of Justice in Public
The Constitution provides that justice shall be administered in public in all courts in Ireland, including the Supreme Court, save in such special and limited cases as may be prescribed by law. Supreme Court sittings in the vast majority of cases are therefore open to the public, with exceptions including those cases concerning family law and particular sexual offences.