In addition to the existence of detailed court rules pursuant to which litigation proceeds, the Irish courts have 'inherent jurisdiction' at their disposal, which allows them to take certain steps with regard to the conduct of proceedings. Although the existence of an unwritten corpus of court powers may seem alien to practitioners from civil law jurisdictions, the inherent jurisdiction represents a body of default powers which enables a court to fulfil, properly and effectively, its role as a court of law. This update summarises the nature of the inherent jurisdiction and gives a concrete example, by reference to a recent case, of how it can operate effectively to secure justice.
Inherent jurisdiction facilitates the court in exercising full judicial power in all matters concerning the general administration of justice; it is a part of the procedural law of the court. Depending on the circumstances, it may be invoked not only in relation to parties in proceedings, but in relation to anyone - whether or not a party to the proceedings. In theory, it can also be raised in respect of matters not yet raised in litigation between the parties. Although it effectively represents a default power designed to operate where there is no express power, inherent jurisdiction may even be raised in circumstances governed by rules of court and statute, unless this right is rescinded by unequivocal statutory intervention. Accordingly, it can potentially be of wide import, but there are four general overriding circumstances in which the inherent jurisdiction is exercised:
to ensure convenience and fairness in legal proceedings; to prevent steps being taken that would render judicial proceedings ineffective; to prevent abuse of process; and to act in aid of superior courts and in aid or control of inferior courts and tribunals. Courts exercise their inherent jurisdiction in almost all areas of the law, including (but by no means limited to) the judicial appointment or removal of trustees, altering the terms of a trust, determining whether to strike out a claim, deciding whether to stay in proceedings, considering whether to strike a company off, in the application of family and child law and criminal sentencing. Inherent jurisdiction has also been used to create Mareva injunctions and Anton Piller orders. However, it should not be considered that inherent jurisdiction promotes uncertainty or arbitrariness. Rather, it is a tool...