These information sheets explain what happens when someone is suspected or accused of an offence which is dealt with by means of a hearing before a court. For information on minor offences such as breaches of the Highway Code which are normally punishable by a fixed penalty such as a fine, see information sheet 5. If you are the victim of a crime, you will find full information about your rights here.
Below is a summary of the normal stages in criminal proceedings.
The Judges’ Council Chamber and the (appeal) indictment division are investigating courts. They check that the arrest warrant is in order, rule on detaining the person on remand, direct the investigation and decide whether or not to commit the case for trial by the court with jurisdiction to hear the merits of the case.
Proceedings before the Judges’ Council Chamber:
If you are accused of a serious offence (an offence punishable by a fine of at least €26 and/or imprisonment of between eight days and five years), you will be summoned to appear before the criminal court, which will determine whether you are guilty of the allegations against you, will acquit or convict you and where appropriate will make an award of damages to the victims. The criminal court may sentence you to a maximum of 20 years in prison in the case of a crime reduced to a serious offence by statute.
Procedure before the criminal courts:
If you are accused of a crime (an offence punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment), you will be committed for trial by the assize court. A jury made up of 12 jurors chosen from among the population will determine whether you are guilty of the charges against you. With the court, composed of three judges, these jurors will decide, if you are found guilty, what sentence to impose. The court alone, however, will decide the amount of any damages payable to victims, if they so request.
Procedure before the assize courts:
You will find details of all these stages in the proceedings and about your rights in the information sheets. This information cannot take the place of consulting a lawyer and is intended only for guidance.
Please note that the European Commission does not play any part in criminal proceedings within Member States and is unable to help you if you wish to make a complaint. These information sheets tell you how you can complain and to whom.
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