Jurisdiction and Powers
There are District court areas throughout the State. The State is divided into Districts and each District is divided into a number of District Court Areas. In Dublin and other major urban areas, District Courts sit on a permanent basis. Outside of these areas, the District Judge travels through the District with Civil and criminal hearings on a regular scheduled basis in towns and other areas. The civil sittings are held separately from criminal family and licensing cases.
The District Court is administered through the District Court Offices throughout the State. The District Court Clerk attached to the office sits in court with the District judges, He calls the cases, administers oaths and makes records of the court orders. The District Court Office issue Civil Summons and other applications made in the District Court.
The District Court hears minor criminal offences where maximum possible imprisonment is no more than one year or a fine not exceeding €6,000. It also deals with a wide variety of applications and cases under special legislation such as licensing, rates collection, road traffic intoxicating liquor licensing family legislation and planning legislation. It deals with enforcement of court orders by examination of debtors.
The rules as to practice and procedure in the District Court are laid out in the District Court Rules. These are amended are updated from time to time. They are made by a committee, whose members include representatives of various groups involved in the court processes, such as judges, barristers and solicitors as well as
From the perspective of a business, the most important cases dealt with breach of contract cases and cases arising from civil wrongs The claims must generally be less than €15,000 unless the parties agree that a higher value claim may be heard in the o District Court.
District court procedure for most civil claims is broadly similar. In 2004 a separate procedure was ntroduced for most personal injury claims These are claims prior some person has suffered a bodily injury typically due to an road traffic or work-related accident.
The procedures in the District Court are less formal than those in the higher courts.
A person taking legal action in the District Court will usually retain a solicitor. It is possible for a claimant or defendant to represent himself. Unlike the Small Claims procedure, District Court procedures are relatively formal and technical so that legal representation is generally advisable.
It is not lawful for a third party, who is not a party to the case and is not a qualified solicitor or barrister to represent a person in the District Court. In limited circumstances, family members may be permitted to represent claimants or defendants.
Is it is possible to represent oneself in the District Court’s as claimant or defendant. The judge will usually attempt to be sympathetic and allow flexibility. However, the formal rules will be applied and a party appearing personally may be disadvantaged, without legal representation.
In the District Court, a solicitor will usually represent a claimant or defendant without a barrister.
The vast majority of claims are for breach of contract (including debt collection) or civil claims for property damage and minor injuries. . Typically, a significant number of cases are listed for a particular day for the hearing.
Commencement of Claim (Old Rule)
A letter of claim should be written to the defendant/defendant’s solicitor before a formal claim is issued. The defendant must be given the opportunity to settle that case, with about going to court. If this is not done, the claimant may be penalised in relation to liability for costs.
In the District Court, legal proceedings are started by issuing a Civil Summons. It must be issued in the correct District Court area. There are rules for the various types of claim. Usually, the correct District is that is where relevant events took place or where the defendant lives.
The Civil Summons sets out details of the claimant and the person claimed against; the defendant. Each party’s name, address and occupation must be set out. The summons sets out the details of the claim to be answered by the defendant. It will allege the relevant facts and request the remedy and court order the claimant claims to be entitled to. It should be worded in such a way, that if the facts alleged are established or admitted, the Court will be obliged to make the court order that is requested (e.g. an order for damages against the defendant by way of compensation).
The Civil Summons will command the defendant to take certain steps if he wishes to defend the claim. If he does not take these steps the claim will be determined in his absence. The claim will not automatically be accepted, as the claimant must give some evidence or proof to support his claim. However, in default of answering to the summons, there is likely to be a court order against the defendant, without further notice.
Unlike the higher courts, the rules as to setting out on the claim and, denying the claim back its defendant are not as strict as in the higher.
Issue and Service of Summons (Old Rules)
The District Court office issues the Civil Summons by stamping and filing copies. Court fees must be paid.
An initial court date is inserted. In the Dublin District, the Civil Summons is issued, stamped and allocated a court date for a particular court. This is an initial date and is not the hearing date.
Outside of the Dublin area, sittings of the court take place on scheduled days, throughout the District. The claimant’s solicitor issues the summons for a particular initial date in the appropriate District Court area. The summons is served and proof of service is given to the District Court Office. The case it is then entered on the list of cases to be mentioned on that date.
The summons must be served at least three weeks before the initial court date (even if the initial date is just a date for further listing).
Foreign Resident Defendant
Where one of the defendants is or resides outside of Ireland, a special procedure applies. A special form of claim, a “notice of institution of proceedings”, is served. The actual summons may be served in the case of an Irish citizen abroad.
The plaintiff’s solicitor institutes proceedings by filing that a summons together with copies of the notice and a certificate setting out the basis on which the court has the power to hear the claim. The District Court office issues the documents and sets the date for a hearing of the summons. This is stamped on the summons and notice.
The date for hearing must be at least five weeks prior to the days of sitting. The te of service must be at least five weeks in the case of European territory base days and six weeks in the case of non-European territory.
Service of Civil Summons
District Court Civil Summons are usually served by registered post. In the case of a company, the summons may be left at or posted to the registered office by ordinary post. If there is a solicitor acting for the defendant, then it is sufficient that a solicitor accepts service. the Civil Summons document does not need to be served personally on the defendant in this case,
Service by registered post may not always be possible. A Civil Summons can be served personally by delivering it to the defendant or by leaving it at his place of residence with a spouse or over person over the age of 18 years.
If service cannot be effected by the normal methods, it is possible to make a court application for substituted service. If the registered post is returned the District Court may give permission to serve by some alternative effective means (e.g. ordinary post). An order is made deeming the alternative form of service to be sufficient.
The summons must be served at least 21 days in advance of the first hearing date if served by registered post. 14 days’ prior service will suffice in the case of personal service.
Proof of service must be lodged with the court prior to the initial court date. In the case of registered post, a declaration proving service must be completed not earlier than 10 days after the letter is posted. This is to allow time to have the summons returned if it is not accepted.
Defending a Claim (Old Rules)
Unlike the case with the higher courts, it is not necessary to set out a detailed form of defence, dealing point by point with the facts and allegations in the claim. The Notice of Intention to Defend is a simple form which is attached to the Civil Summons. It merely requires to be signed, dated and sent to the claimant and court.
If a person wishes to defend a claim in the District Court, he must send one copy of the Notice of Intention to Defend on the claimant or his solicitor and also send another copy to the District Court office, not less than four days before the court date, This may be done later, with the consent of the defendant or the court.
It is possible for the defendant to seek further details of the claim b consent or by an order application and order made by the judge, This is not generally necessary
Pre-Hearing (Old Rules)
Discovery and equivalent procedures are less common in the District Court than in the higher courts. Where necessary, it is possible in District Court proceedings to request and obtain copies of relevant documents in the possession or under the control of the other party. If they are not produced voluntarily upon request, an application may be made to the court. If discovery was reasonably necessary and the defendant refused it voluntarily the costs of the application can be ordered to be paid against the claimant.
A date for hearing the case will be allocated at the initial listed date. Generally, the claimant’s solicitor or his representative appear at this stage to give details on the likely length of proceedings. If the time he is more than two hours, a special date will be fixed. Cases must be mentioned four weeks before that date, and the parties’ solicitors must certify that it is ready to proceed. Generally, the case will not be adjourned if fixed, other than in exceptional circumstances.
A witness summons may be sought to compel the attendance of a witness.. They are issued from the District Court office. At least three days notice must be given together with reasonable direct expenses of attending court. This does not include indirect expenses.
Court Hearing (Old Rules)
The course of a case in the District Court is broadly similar to that in the higher courts. The same laws of evidence apply. In practice, the practice and procedure may be less formal or rigorous than in higher courts. The judge may, for example, choose to ask questions of the witnesses, where this aids his understanding of the case. Much depends on the particular judge ’s preferences and style.
In most civil cases in the District Court, a solicitor acts as an advocate. A barrister may be retained, depending on difficulty or complexity of the case. The successful party will only be allowed the extra costs of a barrister if the District judge certifies that the retention of a barrister was necessary.
The judge is generally given a booklet with copies of the relevant documents. The claimant’s solicitor gives a brief outline of the case and calls his witnesses. The solicitor asks questions to guide them through their evidence, bringing out the relevant facts, in accordance with the claim. The defendant’s solicitor then asks questions including leading questions, with a view t0 casting doubt on their evidence and to elicit facts favourable to the claimant. This is cross-examining the witnesses.
When the claimant’s witnesses have been heard and cross-examined, the defendant, through his witnesses presents his case in the same way. The claimant’s solicitor may cross-examine the defendant’s witnesses, with a view to contradicting or undermining the claim, as presented by the defendant.
When evidence is complete, the solicitors for the parties may make submissions in relation to the evidence. Some Judges may consider this unnecessary.
Decision (Old Rules)
The Judge will usually make his or her decision at the end of the case. His decision will constitute a declaration of the legal position in relation to the facts. It will most likely contain an order, for example, to pay compensation. The judge will normally make an order for costs at the same time. The unsuccessful party in the case will usually be ordered to pay both sides legal costs.
Either claimant or defendant may appeal the decision to the Circuit Court within 14 days. 14 days’ notice of appeal must be given to the other party. The court may require that the person making the appeal, give security for the amount due under the court order.
Claim for Debt
Where a claim is made for a fixed sum such as a debt or a definite sum and no Intention to Defend it is entered, it is possible to obtain a court order for the amount due without a court hearing In these kinds of so-called summary cases, the case will not be entered in the court lists or mentioned in the absence of an Intention to Defend being filed.
The claimant files proof of service of the claim, an affidavit of debt (i.e. a sworn statement that the debt is still due) together with a completed draft decree. The decree e form for a dead debt is its use of dramatically from the court officer.
Where the claim is not for a definite amount, but for an amount to be a proved or assessed by the judge then the case must be listed for hearing, if the defendant does not enter an intention to defend or does not turn up to defend. The claim is usually proved by giving witnesses in a one-sided case
The case may be put in an undefended list. The defendant need not be notified of this hearing as he has not filed the initial intention to defend.
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