Circuit court legal proceedings normally commence by way of a Civil Bill, which must be issued out of the Circuit Court office and served on the other party(ies). The jurisdiction of the Circuit Court is for actions worth between €15,000 and €60,000.
There are many types of Civil Bill including
- Ordinary Civil Bill
- Equity Civil Bill
- Landlord and Tenant Civil Bill
- Ejectment Civil Bill
- Family law Civil Bill.
Most actions in tort or contract will use the Ordinary Civil bill, but a personal injuries action will commence with a personal injuries summons. Precise details of how the claim arises are set out in the Civil bill, along with details of the cause of action alleged and the financial losses/damages arising.
Read this article for the Personal Injuries Summons procedure.
The Civil Bill/PI Summons is issued in the Circuit Court office and must then be served on the defendant(s). Once the Civil Bill is issued time stops running from the perspective of the Statute of Limitations. Once issued, it is valid for 12 months and can be renewed then, if necessary, once an application is brought to the County Registrar.
Service can be carried out in person, by registered post, or ordinary post on a limited company.
Service of a Civil Bill/PI summons is proved by an affidavit of service or statutory declaration of the person who served it.
Defending the action
The defendant must, if he intends defending the action, enter an appearance within 10 days of service of the summons/civil bill. He must send a copy to the Circuit Court office and to the plaintiff’s solicitor.
Failure to enter an appearance will allow the plaintiff to obtain judgment in default of appearance.
Notice for Particulars
Once an appearance is entered the defendant’s solicitor will send a notice for further and better particulars. This will be a list of questions seeking to flesh out more information about the matters pleaded in the civil bill. The replies to these particulars in a personal injures case will state whether the plaintiff has been involved in previous personal injuries proceedings, and whether an award for damages was made.
A defence to the action must be delivered within 10 days of delivery of the replies to the notice for further and better particulars, or entry of the appearance if no notice is raised seeking particulars. The defence must be served on the plaintiff’s solicitor. The defence must state the grounds on which the defendant disputes the plaintiff’s claim.
In a personal injuries action the defence must be delivered within 6 weeks of the appearance.
A defendant can also counterclaim against the plaintiff but the counterclaim must derive from the same facts as the plaintiffs action.
A defence and a counterclaim must contain certain information specified in the Civil Liability and Courts Act, 2004.
If a plaintiff fails to progress their case with reasonable speed the defendant can apply to have the case dismissed for want of prosecution. However, it is in rare cases that cases are dismissed; normally the Court will impose a strict time limit for steps to be taken by the plaintiff.
Lodgement of money into court
To satisfy a Plaintiff’s claim a defendant can lodge a sum of money into court in settlement of the proceedings. In the Circuit court this lodgement is without admission of liability, unlike in the High Court. There are Court rules which determine how and when lodgements can be made.
A notice of lodgement and the sum itself are lodged in the Circuit Court office, and the notice is served on the Plaintiff. The fact of this lodgement will not be disclosed to the Judge hearing the case until he/she has decided all issues between the parties, except for liability for costs.
If the amount lodged is acceptable to the plaintiff he must file a notice of acceptance and serve it on the defendant’s solicitor. all further proceedings are then stayed and the plaintiff’s solicitor can then go ahead and tax his client’s costs to date.
If the lodgement is not accepted and the plaintiff at trial received less that the lodgement amount the defendant will be entitled to all his costs from the date of lodgement to the date of hearing. It is vital, therefore, that a Plaintiff and his solicitor considers the lodgement very carefully.
Personal injury actions
The procedure described above is available in PI actions, too, but is unlikely to be used because section 17 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act, 2004 provides for both the plaintiff and defendant serving on each other a formal offer.
Furthermore, section 51A of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2007 effectively turns an assessment which is rejected by the claimant in to a type of lodgement as if the claim proceeds to full hearing and the assessment amount is not matched in Court and the Plaintiff will not be awarded their costs. In addition, some of the defendant’s costs may be payable, depending on the decision of the Court.
Order 32 of the Circuit Court Rules provides for discovery, which usually occurs at the close of pleadings. Discovery is the process of one party seeking discovery of documents from the other. Read also evidence in civil legal actions-what you need to know.
Either party’s solicitor can also serve a notice to produce on the other party which obliges the production for inspection of any documents referred to in the pleadings.
Joining a third party to the proceedings
This is covered by Order 7 of the Circuit Court rules.
Going to trial
Once the defence has been delivered and any lodgement that might have been served has not been accepted by the Plaintiff the Plaintiff’s solicitor must serve a notice of trial. This is brought to the Circuit Court office where a date will be inserted in the Notice. A copy of this notice must be served on the Defendant’s solicitor.
Outside Dublin the notice of trial serves to set the case down for hearing at the next sittings of the Circuit Court. In Dublin a letter must be lodged confirming that all outstanding discovery matters have been dealt with, proofs have been advised by counsel, up to date reports are available, and there are no outstanding particulars on either side.
The letter should also state the type of case, the likely duration and dates to be avoided, if any.
If a plaintiff fails to serve a notice of trial within 10 days of delivery of the defence the defendant may do so.
Even if a witness has confirmed he will attend it is still strongly advisable to issue and serve a witness summons by personal service or registered post.
Amendment of pleadings
If a party needs to amend any pleading the consent of the Court will be required. Getting the consent of the other party in the first instance will be helpful, too.
Notices of Motion
Notices of motion can be dealt with by the County Registrar and can deal with a wide range of issues such as
- an order for discovery
- an order to dismiss an action for want of prosecution
- an order for the enlargement of time for taking any step
- an order for directions as to service of a civil bill
- and many more administrative matters.
Judgment following the trial
Judgment will be given following the trial and a copy of the order can be obtained from the County Registrar.
Judgment in default of appearance or defence
If the defendant fails to enter an appearance or defence the plaintiff can obtain judgment “in default”. The procedures are slightly different between debt recovery cases and other actions in tort and contract. In tort and contract cases the procedure to obtain judgment is by notice of motion and grounding affidavit.
Remittal and transfer of actions
Cases can be transferred from the Circuit court to the other courts-District or High-and vice versa.