The Courts Act 2016 (the “2016 Act”) was enacted on 28 December 2016. The Act deals primarily with the implications of the decision of the Court of Appeal in Permanent TSB Plc v Langan  IECA 229 (the “Langan Case”). In that case, Mr Justice Hogan held that if a property is not rateable by virtue of the Valuation Act 2001, or comes within other certain provisions of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Acts, the Circuit Court has no jurisdiction to hear proceedings for possession. The Langan Case is currently pending appeal in the Supreme Court.
Key Provisions of the Courts Act 2016 (“the 2016 Act”)
Section 1 of the 2016 Act amends the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 (the “2004 Act”) by inserting a new provision, section 53A. Section 53A provides that there is a rebuttable presumption that the Circuit Court has jurisdiction to hear civil proceedings in relation to land where the plaintiff claims that the market value of the land concerned does not exceed the monetary amount, which is defined in the 2004 Act as being in the sum of €3,000,000.
Section 4 of the 2016 Act amends Section 67 of the Valuation Act 2001 to provide for the determination of the value of the property (if at issue) by reference to the values of other comparable properties, as appears on an existing valuation list relating to the same rating authority area as the property is situate in.
With effect from 11 January 2017, the Circuit Court has jurisdiction to deal with proceedings in relation to land where the “market value” of the land does not exceed €3,000,000. Therefore the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court to hear such matters is no longer based on the rateable valuation of the property. Where the market value is more than €3,000,000 proceedings will be heard in the High Court.
Proceedings for possession initiated before 28 December 2016 will not be affected by the provisions of the 2016 Act.
Keeping People in their Homes Bill 2017 (“the 2017 Bill”)
The first draft of the 2017 Bill was introduced to the Dáil on 27 February 2017. The 2017 Bill proposes to create a statutory basis for the courts to conduct “proportionality assessments” in determining whether an Order for Possession should be granted. It proposes that certain factors must be considered by a Court before an Order for Possession is granted, such as whether a legitimate aim is being sought, whether granting an Order is justifiable by a pressing social need, whether it is proportionate to the legitimate aim being pursued etc.
The Bill also accounts for the likely impact of such an Order on the human rights of the borrower pursuant to the European Convention on Human Rights, the amount of principal the borrower has already paid and the amount the borrower is able to pay on a monthly basis. Where the underlying loan has been sold, the Courts would also have to consider a range of factors such as the amount paid to acquire the loan and the availability of tax relief to the loan acquirer.
The change in the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court and the provisions of the Courts Act 2016 are welcome developments which have resolved, to a large extent, the legal quagmire left by the decision in the Langan Case. The Keeping People in their Homes Bill 2017 evidences the more socially conscious and all-encompassing view that may be taken by the Courts in such cases in the future.