Defendants (criminal proceedings)

What happens before my case comes up for trial?

Before your case comes up for trial, a judge will decide if you should be given bail. You will usually have a right to bail. You can be refused bail if you are unlikely to turn up for your trial, if you have tried or will try to threaten a witness or if you are likely to commit another serious crime.

If you want to rely on an alibi for your trial (i.e. someone who will say you were with them when the crime happened) you will be told by the judge to give the Prosecution notice of who that is.

You have a right to know what the case against you is before your trial. You should be given statements of the evidence against you when you ask for it.

Where will the trial be held?

You will be given the name and location of the court your trial is being held in. The Courts Service of Ireland are in charge of all the courts and can help you find the court you are in.

Minor charges are heard in the District Courts where judges decide the cases alone. More serious charges are heard in the Circuit Courts or Central Criminal Courts where juries give the verdict.

The courts are open to the public. However, where the accused is a child or it is a sexual crime, the case is heard in private.

Can the charges be changed during the trial?

In most cases a charge cannot be changed during a trial. Certain charges can be changed if the law allows for it. For example, a charge of dangerous driving can be changed to the less serious charge of careless driving if the judge decides you were driving carelessly but not dangerously.

If you plead guilty to all of the charges during the trial, the judge will then decide what sentence to give. The judge will balance how serious the crime is and what your personal situation is to make that decision. You should be given credit for pleading guilty.

You can also plead guilty to some of the charges and not guilty to the rest. The judge or jury will make a decision on the charges you are contesting. You will then be sentenced for the charges you pleaded guilty to and for the charges you were found guilty of.

What are my rights during the trial?

For most cases you have to be present at your trial. If you fail to appear in court, the judge can make an order to arrest you and bring you to court in custody. The trial can occasionally go ahead without you and you can be convicted in your absence.

If you cannot come to court because of an accident or illness, you should tell your solicitor and provide him or her with a medical certificate explaining your absence.

You have a right to interpretation if you don’t understand what is happening. If you are deaf, you have a right to interpretation by sign-language.

You have a right to defend yourself in your trial if you want. If you cannot afford a solicitor, one can be appointed to you under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme depending on how serious the charge is. You have a right to choose your solicitor. If you don’t know any, the judge can choose one for you. You can change your solicitor if you are not happy with them.

You can speak at your trial if you want, but you don’t have to. It is a criminal offence to lie when giving sworn evidence.

What are my rights in relation to the evidence against me?

You can challenge the evidence given against you if it was obtained unlawfully. For example, if the police went into your house without a search warrant, any evidence they got while there will usually not be allowed.

You can also challenge the evidence by asking witnesses questions to show they are lying or mistaken. You can also ask witnesses to give evidence which is relevant to your defence, or shows the prosecution witnesses are lying or mistaken.

You can hire a private detective to obtain evidence for you. The evidence is admissible as long it was lawfully obtained.

Will information about my criminal record be taken into account?

Evidence of your previous convictions cannot normally be taken into account during your trial.

However, when judges are deciding what sentence to give you they can take your previous convictions into account. That can include any previous convictions from other countries.

What happens at the end of the trial?

If you are found not guilty, the trial is over and you can walk free.

If you are found guilty or plead guilty, the judge will decide what sentence to give you. You might have to pay a fine or serve a prison sentence. The judge might suspend your sentence as long as you don’t commit more crimes.

The judge might ask the Probation Services to write a report about you before giving out your sentence. They will tell the judge if you are suitable for supervision to deal with whatever problems cause your criminal behaviour.

If asked, the Probation Service will tell the judge if you are able to do Community Service. The judge may then order you to do up to 240 hours of unpaid work instead of a jail sentence.

What is the role of the victim during the trial?

The victim’s role during the trial is as a witness for the prosecution. They will give evidence about what they saw happen in relation to the charge.

If you are convicted or plead guilty, the judge will take into account the impact of the crime on the victim.

Related links

Database of Irish legislation

Database of Irish and British case law

Last update: 13/02/2012

The national language version of this page is maintained by the respective Member State. The translations have been done by the European Commission service. Possible changes introduced in the original by the competent national authority may not be yet reflected in the translations. The European Commission accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to any information or data contained or referred to in this document. Please refer to the legal notice to see copyright rules for the Member State responsible for this page.


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