Justice Minister Alan Shatter recently implemented changes to the monetary jurisdiction of the Courts which were included in the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013. The new limits, which will apply in Circuit and District Court cases, apply to all proceedings issued after 3 February 2014. This is the first increase since 1991 and in respect of proceedings issued after this date, the monetary limit of the Circuit Court increases from €38,000 to €75,000 and of the District Court from €6,350 to €15,000. Notably, for personal injury actions only, the new monetary jurisdiction of the Circuit Court will be €60,000.
Presumably in anticipation of an increased case load in the District Court, there has been extensive revision and consolidation of the applicable procedural rules.
For example, the new rules at District Court level provide for measures such as interim applications to Court for discovery and rulings in personal injury cases in respect of minors or persons with a disability. It is, however, unfortunate that the opportunity was not taken to extend the provisions of S.I.391 to the Circuit and District Court, particularly having regard to the higher stakes now applying.
S.I. 391 obliges the parties in High Court personal injury litigation to disclose and exchange expert reports and statements. In addition, it obliges the parties to exchange the names and addresses of all witnesses intended to be called to give evidence as to facts. Furthermore, the plaintiff must serve a schedule of all special damages with vouchers or statements from witnesses by whose evidence such loss would be proved. The plaintiff must also serve a written statement from the Department of Social Welfare regarding payments made to him or an authority to enable the Defendant/his solicitor apply for such information. The whole point of the disclosure rules is to remove "trial by ambush" and instead put the parties in a position of knowledge prior to trial. This can facilitate settlement or at the very least narrow the issues e.g. some items of special damage can be agreed without formal proof, thus shortening the trial process.
For now, these rules apply only to High Court cases and it would be a welcome reform if it were extended to apply in Circuit and District matters also.
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