Referendum for Court of Appeal to be held in October

President of new court would join Council of State

A referendum on a new Court of Appeal will be held in October after the Government today published a draft law allowing for the creation of the court.

The reform would bring about a major change in the courts system and ease the four-year backlog of cases at the Supreme Court, which would in future take only appeals on constitutional issues or cases of major importance.

Under the Bill, the new court would sit between the High Court and the Supreme Court in the hierarchy. Its president would become an ex officio member of the Council of State and would be the substitute for the Chief Justice on the Presidential Commission, a three-member body that takes over the functions of the president when the office is vacant or the head of state is unavailable.

The Government’s plan envisages that the new Court of Appeal will deal with most cases that are currently dealt with by the Supreme Court, thus reducing the higher court’s workload and allowing it to focus on the development of the law.


The Supreme Court will hear appeals of “public importance” or where it is “in the interests of justice” that the appeal by heard by the highest court in the State.

In “exceptional circumstances”, where these tests of public interest and “the interests of justice” are met, the Supreme Court will be able to hear appeals directly from the High Court.

The model for the new court is largely drawn from the 2009 report of the working group chaired by the current chief justice, Miss Justice Susan Denham.

The Bill does not specify the number of judges who will sit on the new court, their remuneration, age of retirement or pensions - issues that will be set out later in legislation.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the publication of the Bill was "another important staging post" on the way to a referendum and "hopefully a reform of our courts architecture that is long overdue."

The Supreme Court in Ireland, unlike equivalent institutions in other common law jurisdictions, is the court of final appeal not only for constitutional matters but for all appeals from the lower courts. Figures published this week by the Courts Service show that the court received 605 appeals last year - a 21 per cent increase on 2011. It gave judgments in 121 cases, compared to 64 in the United States Supreme Court and 85 in the Supreme Court in London.

Mr Shatter said the creation of a new court would ensure proceedings would take place within a reasonable time and help Ireland become more attractive to investors. “There is a cost to society in not having an efficient court system. Leaving aside the obvious costs faced by the parties directly concerned, there is a cost to our reputation as a developed modern democracy if people can’t have their cases litigated without undue delay,” he said.

“We also know that this is an issue for foreign multinational companies when they are deciding where to invest. Countries that have properly functioning, efficient and effective legal systems are at a clear advantage over those that do not.”

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times