The District Court is a court of local and summary jurisdiction. The business of the District Court can be divided into four categories: - criminal, civil, family law and licensing.
The civil jurisdiction of the District Court in contract and most other matters is where the claim or award does not exceed €15,000.
The District Court exercising its criminal jurisdiction deals with four particular types of offences.
Summary offences - these are offences for which there is no right of trial by judge and jury. This makes up the bulk of the criminal work of the District Court, these offences are exclusively statutory in origin. Indictable offences tried summarily - with the consent of the accused and the DPP and the judge being of the opinion that the facts constitute a minor offence.
Indictable offences - other than certain offences including rape, aggravated sexual assault, murder, treason and piracy where the accused pleads guilty and the DPP consents, and the judge accepts the guilty plea. Otherwise, the accused is sent forward to the Circuit Court on his signed plea of guilty for sentencing.
Indictable offences not tried summarily. With regard to these offences, a Book of Evidence is served on the accused. The judge considers the Book of Evidence and any submissions on behalf of the defence or the prosecution. If the judge is of the opinion that there is a sufficient case to answer, the accused is sent forward to the Circuit Court or Central Criminal Court for trial.
The District Court has a wide jurisdiction in the family law area. Proceedings are not heard in open court and are as informal as is practicable.
(i) Domestic Violence
Under the Domestic Violence Act, 1996, there are two main types of remedies - Safety Orders and Barring Orders.
(ii) Guardianship of Children
Under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 as amended by the Status of Children's Act, 1987, the District Court can make custody and access orders and appoint guardians. It also has jurisdiction to establish paternity in relation to any child, with regard to an application for custody, access or maintenance.
Under the Maintenance of Spouses and Children Act, 1976 (as amended) the District Court can award maintenance to a spouseand child(ren). The maximum that can be awarded to a spouse is €500 per week and for a child €150 per week. To enforce the order the court can direct that all payments be paid through the District Court office, make attachment of earnings or issue a warrant for the arrest of the defaulting debtor.
(iv) Child Care
Under the Child Care Act, 1991, the HSE can make a number of applications to court for orders.
The District Court also has wide powers in relation to liquor and lottery licensing.
The District Court also deals with miscellaneous actions such as actions taken under the Control of Dogs Acts, applications for citizenship, applications to amend birth and marriage certificates and applications under the Environmental Protection Act, 1992 for orders in connection with noise reduction.
The District Court consists of sixty four judges including a President. The country is divided into twenty three districts with one or more judges permanently assigned to each district and the Dublin Metropolitan District.
Generally the venue at which a case is heard depends on where an offence was committed. or where the defendant resides or carries on business. or was arrested. Each District Court office (with the exception of the Dublin Metropolitan District Court) deals with all elements of the work of the District Court. The District Court is known as a court of ‘local and summary jurisdiction’.
The District Court has a limited jurisdiction in respect of decisions made by statutory bodies and in these appeals, the decision of the District Court is final except where a point of law is at issue. In such instances an appeal can be taken to the High Court.