The Irish Government is set to make an order today, Tuesday 28 October 2014, pursuant to the Court of Appeal Act 2014 establishing the new Court of Appeal. It will be inserted into the Irish judicial framework between the High Court and the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal Act was passed into law earlier this summer following a referendum where voters sanctioned a constitutional amendment to facilitate the change in the Irish Courts system.
This is an historic development for commercial litigation in Ireland as the High Court is the first port of call for the vast majority of significant business disputes and insolvencies being the court of first instance for claims worth in excess of €70,000; the court of first instance for the majority of applications made under Irish company law including all compulsory liquidations and most examinerships (Ireland's answer to Chapter 11 in bankruptcy) and is the court of first instance for all actions in equity such as injunctions. In recent years, Ireland, as a jurisdiction to litigate business disputes and insolvencies, had become somewhat less efficient, due to a significant and increasing backlog of matters before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in recent years was under significant administrative strain which, prior to today, not only dealt with High Court appeals but also constitutional cases and civil and criminal cases of exceptional public importance. Indeed, the average waiting period for the hearing of an appeal in the Supreme Court of a High Court judgment was between 36 and 40 months. It is envisaged that the Court of Appeal will sit more frequently and this will result in a significantly reduced waiting time and a more streamlined appeals system.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ms. Justice Denham has referred to the establishment of the new court as the most important change in the structure of the Irish courts since the foundation of the State. Following the establishment today of the Court of Appeal, all superior court appellate jurisdictions will be moved to the new court.
While new Rules of the Superior Courts are yet to be published which will set out exactly how the Court of Appeal will operate from a practical and procedural viewpoint, the Court of Appeal Act 2014, which creates the new Court, states that in the absence of express rules, the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal will be exercised (as regards pleading, practice and procedure) as nearly as possible in the same manner as it might have been exercised by the Supreme Court. The President of the Court of Appeal can also issue practice directions which should allow for greater flexibility and adaptability in the procedure of the Court of Appeal.
In relation to the composition of the Court of Appeal, nine judges have been appointed consisting of eight newly promoted High Court Judges and one promoted Circuit Court Judge. The Act provides that the Court will sit in divisions of three judges which may sit at the same time, which will allow concurrent appeals to be heard.
The Judges who have been appointed to the Court of Appeal are experienced and include Mr. Justice Kelly, who was responsible for the setting up and administration of the Commercial Court which is 10 years old this year, and Ms. Justice Finlay Geoghegan, who was one of the leading High Court insolvency judges in the jurisdiction. The President of the new Court of Appeal will be Mr. Justice Ryan, who will become the second highest ranking member of the judiciary in Ireland, after the Chief Justice.