Functions and duties of individuals in a court of law
This page provides information on the functions and duties of the different people you are likely to encounter in a courtroom.
The judge in an Irish courtroom usually sits on a raised platform at the top of the court and wears a white collar and a black gown.
The judge is in charge of the courtroom and they must make sure that the trial is fair. They settle any legal argument and direct the jury.
If there is no jury in a case, it is the judge who decides which party wins and which party loses. They listen to the evidence of both sides and to the submissions of the barristers (or solicitors). The judge may ask questions of any witness and of the barristers (or solicitors).
If there is a jury, they usually decide the outcome of the case. The jury in a criminal trial has the responsibility of deciding whether the person accused of the crime is guilty or not guilty. If the defendant is found guilty the judge decides the sentence.
You can read more about the role of the judge.
A barrister (also called "counsel") is a type of lawyer who specialises in court advocacy and giving legal opinions. In court, their role is to argue their case and examine any witnesses. They sit facing the judge and the witnesses, and wear black gowns.
Barristers are engaged by solicitors to work on a case. When you contact a solicitor for legal advice, your solicitor may recommend that a barrister be engaged to provide services.
You can read more about barristers.
A solicitor is a type of lawyer. A solicitor may give you legal advice about taking or defending a case. If you are involved in a court case, your solicitor will manage the case and represent you when dealing with the other party. For example, your solicitor will send letters to the other side on your behalf. Your solicitor will file all of the necessary court documents and contact the witnesses for the case.
Solicitors do not have to wear any special clothes when in court. If there is a barrister involved in the case, the solicitor will usually sit facing the barrister in the bench under the judge. If the barrister needs a matter to be clarified, they can then lean over to ask the solicitor.
If it is necessary to involve a barrister in the case, your solicitor will brief the barrister by sending them all of the necessary documents and information.
You can read more about solicitors.
The jury consists of 12 members of the public who sit in a box to one side of the judge. One of the jurors is selected as a foreman of the jury by the members of the jury before the case starts. They act as an informal chairperson and spokesperson for the jury.
You are entitled to be tried by jury unless the alleged offence is a minor one or one that is being tried in the Special Criminal Court. However, a jury is not required in every legal case. There is a jury in some civil cases such as defamation and assault cases. However, for the majority of civil cases such as personal injuries actions and family law cases, there is no jury - it is the judge who decides the outcome.
The jurors are charged with the responsibility of deciding whether, on the facts of the case, a person is guilty or not guilty of the offence for which they have been charged.
The jury must reach its verdict by considering only the evidence introduced in court and the directions of the judge. The jury does not interpret the law. It follows the directions of the judge as regards legal matters.
The jury has no role in sentencing. This decision is left up to the judge following submissions made by both sides.
Witnesses are people who have been called to give evidence in court. The witness's name is called and they go into the witness box at one side of the judge. They stand in the witness box to repeat the oath or affirmation and then sit down.
The witness is then asked a series of questions by the barristers (or solicitors) in the case. The witness's function is to give evidence to the court. For example, the witness may have seen a robbery take place and may be able to tell the court what they saw. This evidence may help the judge or the jury to make its decision.
You can read more about witnesses in court cases in Ireland.
The court registrar
The court registrar (or court clerk) usually sits on a slightly raised platform below the judge facing the court. They do not wear any special clothes in court, although sometimes in the High Court if the registrar happens to also be a barrister, they will wear barrister's robes.
Court registrars are public servants and they are recruited directly from the civil service.
The registrar's main function is to assist the judge by:
- Calling out each case as they start so that the parties can identify themselves to the court
- Swearing in the witnesses
- Swearing in the jury and recording the decision in the case
- Being in charge of court documents and exhibits
- Drafting the orders that the judge has made during a day in court and keeping a record of those orders
- Generally dealing with the administration necessary for the smooth running of the courts
The judicial assistant works with the judge. They do legal research for the judge.
They also announce when the judge enters or leaves the courtroom (usually by saying ‘all rise’).
Public and press
Most courtrooms are open to the public and anyone can come in and watch.
If the courtroom is not open to the public there will be a sign on the door reading ‘in camera’. This means that the case is heard in private and only people who are involved in the case are allowed in. This is done to protect the privacy of the people in court, usually in family law matters and some criminal cases (for instance rape cases or cases in the juvenile courts).
The members of the public attending a court case may include reporters employed by newspapers, radio, television, or legal reports companies.
Everything that is said in court is recorded digitally by a Digital Audio Recording (DAR) box.
What to expect when you go to court
If you are going to court, you are not expected to know all the formalities of the courtroom and some of these will be explained to you during the case. For example, the judge or clerk will tell you where to sit when you arrive, and you will be told when you can leave.
Some of the procedures in a courtroom include:
- Standing when the judge is entering or leaving the court, or when you are speaking to the court
- Addressing the judge as ‘judge’ when you are speaking to them
- Turning off your phone or switching it to silent mode, and not taking pictures or recording videos during the case
- Not raising your voice or interrupting others, and only speaking when directed to do so
You are allowed to take notes during the case if you wish, and you can ask the judge for a break if you need one.
You can read more about what to expect in a courtroom on The Courts Service website.
You can read about the different legal terms you might hear during a case and about the different courts that make up the court system.