At any stage in criminal proceedings against you in court, you may decide to
plead guilty to the offence.
If you are charged with a summary offence you plead guilty in the District
The District Court Judge will then issue your sentence after listening to
your legal representative and the prosecution (usually a member of An Garda
Siochana - the Irish police force).
If you are charged with an indictable offence and you decide to plead guilty
when you appear in the District Court, you will be required to sign pleas
Before you sign the pleas of guilt, the District Judge will first make sure
that you are aware of the facts alleged against you and that you understand the
nature of the offence.
You will then be sent forward to the Circuit Court for sentencing. If you
change your mind, you may withdraw your pleas of guilt at the Circuit Court and
the trial will go ahead.
If you have pleaded not guilty in the District Court and you have been sent
forward for trial by a judge and jury, you may then decide to plead guilty to
the offence. If you plead guilty at the Circuit Court, you will stand convicted
and the court will then decide your sentence.
If you are charged with a summary offence, a judge sitting without a jury
will decide your case. It will take place in the District Court. A summary
trial will usually take the following format
- The Registrar of the District
Court will call your case by its name.
- You or your legal representative will stand up to make yourself known to
- The Garda (member of the Irish police force) who has made the complaint
against you will take the witness stand and give evidence about the offence
- i.e., what happened.
- The defence may cross-examine the Garda.
- The prosecution may call any more witnesses and will question the
witnesses to allow them to give evidence about the offence.
- The defence may cross-examine each of the prosecution witnesses after
they have given evidence.
- The defence may call and question witnesses to give evidence in your
defence. You yourself may give evidence although you are not obliged to do
- The prosecution may cross-examine each of your witnesses.
- Both the prosecution and the defence may make final submissions relating
to the case.
- The judge will make his or her decision about whether you are guilty or
not guilty of the offence, based on the evidence given. To find you guilty,
he or she must believe that it has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt
that you are guilty.
- If the judge finds that you are guilty of the offence, he or she may
decide the sentence.
If the judge finds that you are not guilty, he or she will dismiss the
charges against you.
Trial by jury
Criminal jury trials are held in the Circuit Court and the Central Criminal
Court and usually follow the following format:
- The indictment is read out, which lists the offences (counts) to which
you have pleaded not guilty.
- The opening speech of the trial is made by the prosecution. The
prosecution counsel opens the case and tells the jury about matters that
the prosecution intends to prove. Counsel gives an outline of the facts and
evidence that the prosecution intends to call. He/she explains the nature
of the charges alleged against the accused.
- After the opening address to the jury, the prosecution calls witnesses,
usually in the order listed in the Book of Evidence. Counsel
asks the witnesses questions to allow them to tell their story and give
their evidence in their own words. Documents and statements may be
introduced. Forensic evidence may be introduced as exhibits and the jury is
usually given an opportunity to examine such exhibits.
- When the prosecuting counsel has finished asking each witness questions,
the defence counsel may cross-examine the witness. If the defence
intends to challenge a prosecution witness's evidence, the defence counsel
must explain the basis for the challenge to the witness.
- When the prosecuting counsel has finished presenting the case for the
prosecution, the defence begins. The defence counsel opens the defence and
calls witnesses and introduces evidence. Each witness may be cross-examined
by the prosecution. As you are the accused you are not obliged to give
- At the end of the case, both the prosecution and the defence counsel
summarise the facts for the jury and emphasise the merits of their own
- At the end of the trial, the judge sums up the case for the jury. He/she
explains the jury's function and directs the jury to confine itself to the
evidence presented in court and to disregard any media reports.
- The judge must direct the jury on any legal points that arise. For
example, he/she may explain the legal ingredients of the offence of murder
so that the jury can arrive at a verdict that conforms to that legal
- As the case is a criminal one, the judge will also explain to the jury
that it must be satisfied of your guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Beyond
reasonable doubt means that if there are two reasons given in the case and
both are possible explanations for what happened, taken together with the
evidence presented, the jury should give you the benefit of the doubt. (If
the case was a civil one, the judge would explain to the jury that it must
be satisfied of its verdict on the balance of probabilities.)