In recent years, the Supreme Court has developed a heavy backlog of appeals from the High Court. The system of appeals from the High Court resulted in delays of up to four years before Supreme Court appeals would be heard. Even priority cases were delayed by as much as 12 months. To help alleviate this situation, and following a referendum held in October 2013, the Court of Appeal was established on 28 October 2014 pursuant to the Court of Appeal Act 2014. The Rules of the Superior Courts have also been amended to provide for the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal will sit in the former Public Records Office in the Four Courts complex, which has been adapted for this purpose.
The Court of Appeal is responsible for hearing all appeals from the High Court, both civil and criminal. As well as taking over the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, it takes over the jurisdiction of the Court of Criminal Appeal, which is being abolished. The Supreme Court can still hear appeals directly from both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, but only where the Supreme Court is satisfied that the appeal involves an issue of general public importance or that it is in the interests of justice that the appeal be heard before the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeal will have a dedicated panel of up to ten judges and will ordinarily sit in divisions of three judges. However, the President of the Court of Appeal may nominate a judge to sit alone to hear a matter if it would be in the interests of justice and necessary for the expeditious determination of that matter. Judge Seán Ryan has been appointed as the President of the Court of Appeal. Nine other judges have also been appointed, with just one place left to be filled:
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Cases that have been partly heard in the High Court by judges who are due to form part of the Court of Appeal shall be continued by those judges and judgments will be delivered. Cases that are currently before the Supreme Court, but the hearing of which has not yet commenced, can be transferred by the direction of the Chief Justice to the Court of Appeal, if they have not been previously heard before the Court of Criminal Appeal. The first of these transfer directions was issued on 29 October 2014, with 250 cases being transferred. Cases can also be transferred from the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal on the application of any of the parties to an appeal, though the procedure for this application has not yet been set out in law.
The introduction of the Court of Appeal should significantly reduce the waiting times for appeals from the High Court. The Court of Appeal began hearing civil cases on 12 November 2014, largely dealing with cases transferred from the Supreme Court. It is due to begin hearing new appeals from December 2014.