Rules of court procedure do not often generate much interest
beyond a small circle of lawyers. However, in Ireland, High Court
rules are being introduced which could radically alter the culture
of Irish civil procedure. We examine the scope of the rules and
some practical implications.
Until recently, there were two key differences in non-personal
injury English and Irish civil court procedure:
Irish Judges generally had a “hands off” approach
to proceedings, the onus being on a party to take steps to compel a
defaulting party to comply; and
Apart from personal injury or Commercial Court cases, there was
no obligation in Ireland to exchange expert reports or witness
The result was that Irish litigation suffered a reputation for
inefficiency and delay. A party could be
“ambushed” at trial since there was no obligation to
disclose which witnesses were to be called, or to exchange any
statement of their evidence in advance. The stand-out
exception has been the Commercial Court, which was established in
2004 to deal with commercial disputes valued at more than €1
That Court operated so efficiently that, as from 1 October 2016,
a similar approach is to be extended across Chancery and Non-Jury
proceedings. They will affect the vast majority of civil claims
including professional negligence cases 1, but
excluding personal injury cases. We consider some of the new rules
which should address the criticisms about inefficiency and lack of
Two of the most significant changes are the following which
apply in all circumstances:
Where a party intends to offer expert evidence, that
party must disclose their intention to call an
expert in their pleadings, stating the expert’s field of
expertise and the matter on which expert evidence is intended to be
Unless the Judge orders otherwise, a party intending to rely
upon oral evidence of a factual or expert
witness shall serve and file witness statements
and expert reports.
Some rules are offered as options. A Judge, either on his own
initiative, or on application of one of the
parties, may direct as follows:
The proceedings may be subject to case management and, if that
is the case, the Judge will give directions for the conduct of the
proceedings up to trial.
A person may be appointed “to assist the court
in understanding or clarifying a matter” as
A number of rules clarify the duties and obligations of an
expert “to assist the Court as to matters within his
or her field of expertise”. The Judge has
jurisdiction to make a number of directions as to expert evidence,
The experts may be directed to meet privately and draw up a
written statement to identify areas agreed and not agreed.
In certain limited circumstances, experts may be examined at
trial one after the other or by a “debate among
experts” procedure. The best analogy is a
political debate with the Judge seeking to test each expert’s
For readers familiar with English court procedure, this may not
seem particularly novel.
Those who may be called upon as “experts” to give
evidence should ensure that they are aware of the new regime and
the duties and obligations under which they will be providing
advice and assistance to clients.
Whilst change is always challenging, there can be no doubt that
the Superior Courts Rules Committee has taken a major step towards
bringing Irish procedure into line with other common law
jurisdictions. This is a welcome development which makes
litigation in Ireland a more competitive and efficient venue for
commercial disputes, even when they do not meet the Commercial
Court financial threshold.
1. Rules of the Superior Courts (Chancery and
Non-Jury actions and Other Designated Proceedings: Pre-trial
Procedures) 2016 SI No 255 of 2016 and Rules of
the Superior Courts (Conduct of Trials) 2016
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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