District Court (Ireland)
The District Court is the main court of summary jurisdiction
Summary jurisdiction
Summary jurisdiction, in the widest sense of the phrase, in English law includes the power asserted by courts of record to deal brevi manu with contempts of court without the intervention of a jury. Probably the power was originally exercisable only when the fact was notorious, i.e. done in...

 in Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

. It has responsibility for hearing minor criminal matters, small civil claims, liquor licensing, and certain family law
Family law
Family law is an area of the law that deals with family-related issues and domestic relations including:*the nature of marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships;...

 applications. It is also responsible for indicting the accused and sending them forward for trial at the Circuit Court
Circuit court
Circuit court is the name of court systems in several common law jurisdictions.-History:King Henry II instituted the custom of having judges ride around the countryside each year to hear appeals, rather than forcing everyone to bring their appeals to London...

 and Central Criminal Court.


The civil jurisdiction is limited to damages not exceeding €6,348.69; the court has no equitable jurisdiction.

The Court has the power to renew licences for the sale of intoxicating liquor and grant licences for lotteries.

The family jurisdiction of the Court includes the power to award guardianship, grant protection or barring orders, and award maintenance of up to €150 a week.

The criminal jurisdiction is limited to summary offence
Summary offence
A summary offence is a criminal act in some common law jurisdictions that can be proceeded with summarily, without the right to a jury trial and/or indictment .- United States :...

s - i.e. offences heard without a jury where the maximum punishment is 12 months imprisonment. Indictable offence
Indictable offence
In many common law jurisdictions , an indictable offence is an offence which can only be tried on an indictment after a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is a prima facie case to answer or by a grand jury...

s may also be tried by the Court provided the accused, the judge and the Director of Public Prosecutions
Director of Public Prosecutions
The Director of Public Prosecutions is the officer charged with the prosecution of criminal offences in several criminal jurisdictions around the world...

 agree. In such a case the maximum penalty imposed by the judge for the indictable offence can not exceed 12 months imprisonment. Murder, treason, rape and aggravated sexual assault are crimes that can not be disposed of summarily in such a manner. Bail
Traditionally, bail is some form of property deposited or pledged to a court to persuade it to release a suspect from jail, on the understanding that the suspect will return for trial or forfeit the bail...

 hearings for offences triable by both the District Court itself and the Circuit Court
Circuit Court (Ireland)
The Circuit Court is an intermediate level court of local and limited jurisdiction in the Republic of Ireland which hears both civil and criminal matters. On the criminal side the Circuit Court hears criminal matters tried on indictment with a judge and jury, except for certain serious crimes...

 are heard here also with a right to appeal to the High Court for a refusal to grant bail. Most of the offences are usually minor as the more serious cases are sent to the Circuit Court and Central Criminal Court. The District Court continues to hold indictment
An indictment , in the common-law legal system, is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that maintain the concept of felonies, the serious criminal offence is a felony; jurisdictions that lack the concept of felonies often use that of an indictable offence—an...

 hearings for the more senior criminal court, although since 1967, the Court no longer has any discretion whether or not to send forward the accused, as long as the DPP serves a Book of Evidence on the accused.


All judgements of the District Court of this country, in both civil and criminal trials can be appealed to a de novo
Trial de novo
In law, the expression trial de novo means a "new trial" by a different tribunal...

 hearing in front of the Circuit Court. The decisions of a District Court judge can also be judicially reviewed
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

 by the High Court.


The Court consists of a President and sixty-three judges. Although, strictly speaking, there is just one District Court, in reality for the purposes of the administration of justice the country is divided into a Dublin Metropolitan District (covering the same area as the Garda Síochána
Garda Síochána
, more commonly referred to as the Gardaí , is the police force of Ireland. The service is headed by the Commissioner who is appointed by the Irish Government. Its headquarters are located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.- Terminology :...

's Dublin Metropolitan Area
Dublin Metropolitan Area
Dublin Metropolitan Area is a term used by various bodies to describe the area of Dublin, Ireland, and its surrounding counties which have an urban designation; between these bodies its definition is not always consistent.-Garda usage:...

) and 25 District Court Areas. At least one judge is assigned to each District Court Area and a significant number of judges are normally assigned to the Dublin Metropolitan District. The District Court sitting in a particular location is normally referred to as (name of town) District Court, e.g. Tullamore District Court.


Judges of the District Court, other than the President, are styled e.g. Judge John Smith (or sometimes, as District Judge John Smith, or simply Judge Smith) and addressed in Court as "Judge". This style is relatively recent, prior to the Courts Act 1991, judges of the District Court were known as Justices of the District Court or commonly as District Justices and styled e.g. District Justice John Smith or Justice Smith (N.B. not Mr Justice Smith as this was and is the style of a superior court judge).

The President, as an ex-officio judge of the Circuit Court, is entitled to the style of a Circuit Judge, so is styled e.g. His/Her Honour Judge Smith instead.

The President of the District Court was established under the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961 Part 4.
  • List of Presidents of the District Court
  • His Honour Judge Peter Smithwick (1995–2005)
  • Her Honour Judge Miriam Malone (2005-)


The current District Court was established in 1961. However, the jurisdiction vested in it stems from the earlier courts of petty sessions. Petty sessions were originally held by justices of the peace, who were lay people (and in Ireland, typically members of the Protestant Ascendancy
Protestant Ascendancy
The Protestant Ascendancy, usually known in Ireland simply as the Ascendancy, is a phrase used when referring to the political, economic, and social domination of Ireland by a minority of great landowners, Protestant clergy, and professionals, all members of the Established Church during the 17th...

), as preliminary hearings for Quarter Sessions
Quarter Sessions
The Courts of Quarter Sessions or Quarter Sessions were local courts traditionally held at four set times each year in the United Kingdom and other countries in the former British Empire...

 and the Assizes)
Assizes (Ireland)
The Courts of Assizes or Assizes were the higher criminal court in Ireland outside Dublin prior to 1924 . They have now been abolished in both jurisdictions.-Jurisdiction:...

. From 1836, the justices acted under the supervision of resident magistrates. The Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 regulated petty sessions, organising the country into petty sessions districts and providing for the appointment of clerks of petty sessions. A series of Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Acts, beginning in 1851, vested petty sessions with summary jurisdiction in minor criminal matters. Both these Acts are still on the statute book, though heavily amended. In Dublin, the divisional magistrates exercised similar power to petty sessions under the Dublin Police Acts.

During the War of Independence
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence , Anglo-Irish War, Black and Tan War, or Tan War was a guerrilla war mounted by the Irish Republican Army against the British government and its forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. Both sides agreed...

, the Royal Irish Constabulary
Royal Irish Constabulary
The armed Royal Irish Constabulary was Ireland's major police force for most of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. A separate civic police force, the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police controlled the capital, and the cities of Derry and Belfast, originally with their own police...

 retreated to barracks, and petty sessions could not be held in most of the country. A system of Dáil Courts
Dáil Courts
During the Irish War of Independence, the Dáil Courts were the judicial branch of government of the short-lived Irish Republic. They were formally established by a decree of the First Dáil Éireann on 29 June 1920, replacing more limited Arbitration Courts that had been authorised a year earlier...

 was set up by the First Dáil
First Dáil
The First Dáil was Dáil Éireann as it convened from 1919–1921. In 1919 candidates who had been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refused to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled as a unicameral, revolutionary parliament called "Dáil Éireann"...

 to replace them. A Dáil Parish Court exercised summary jurisdiction in IRA-controlled areas. After the outbreak of the Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

, however, the Provisional Government decided to "revert" to the British courts, pending the report of a commission headed by Lord Glenavy on what would replace them
Courts of Justice Act 1924
The Courts of Justice Act, 1924 was an Act of the Oireachtas that established the courts system of the Irish Free State pursuant to the Constitution of the Irish Free State...

. It decided, however, immediately to make changes to summary jurisdiction by dismissing all remaining resident magistrates and terminating the commissions of justice of the peace, many of whom had resigned anyway. It then proceeded to appoint 27 new resident magistrates who would sit alone without justices of the peace, giving them the title of District Justice. The District Justices (Temporary Provisions) Act 1923 changed the name of Petty Sessions to District Courts and confirmed the appointment of the existing District Justices. The Dáil Parish Courts were would up separately.

The District Court of Justice was formally established in 1924, replacing the renamed District Courts and the Dublin Metropolitan Police Court. The Courts Acts of 1961 replaced this court with the current District Court.

External links

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