The Supreme Court is the highest court in Ireland and the court of final appeals. It was formally established on 29th September, 1961 under the terms of Article 34 of the Constitution of Ireland.
Composition of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is composed of the Chief Justice of Ireland, who is President of the Court, and nine ordinary judges. The President of the Court of Appeal and the President of the High Court are additional judges of the Supreme Court.
Mr Justice Frank Clarke was appointed the 12th Chief Justice of Ireland on the 28th July, 2017, succeeding The Hon. Mrs. Justice Susan Denham. In addition to presiding at hearings of the Supreme Court the Chief Justice has the responsibility of managing the Court including the assignment of Judges to cases for hearing.
The Supreme Court is based in the Four Courts in Dublin, but occasionally sits in other cities. Cases are heard by three, five or, in exceptional circumstances, seven judges.
A case in the Supreme Court is decided by agreement of the majority of judges. Each judge in a case is entitled to deliver a separate opinion, 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 these cases the decision is pronounced by a single judge as directed by the court and no other opinions are expressed.
The Constitution provides that justice shall be administered in public in all courts in Ireland, including the Supreme Court. 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.
The Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear the following appeals:
(a) from a decision of the Court of Appeal if the Supreme Court is satisfied that-
i. the decision involves a matter of general public importance, or
ii. in the interests of justice it is necessary that there be an appeal to the Supreme Court (Article 34.5.3 of the Constitution) and
(b) from a decision of the High Court if the Supreme Court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances warranting a direct appeal to it - a precondition for the Supreme Court being so satisfied of the presence of either or both of the following factors:
i. the decision involves a matter of general public importance;
ii. the interests of justice (Article 34.5.4 of the Constitution).
The Supreme Court also has the power to decide whether a Bill that has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and presented to the President of Ireland for his/her signature is unconstitutional. This happens when the matter is referred to the Court by the President.