Legal representation in criminal cases

Who represents me in a criminal case?

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, you will need to go to court. The type of offence you are charged with determines what kind of legal representation you will need.

There are 2 types of criminal offences:

  1. A summary offence, which can be tried by a judge in the District Court sitting without a jury
  2. An indictable offence, which is tried by a Circuit Court or High Court judge sitting with a jury

Summary offence

If you have been charged with a summary offence, you may be represented by a solicitor and/or a barrister (also called counsel).

Examples of summary offences include certain public order offences, such as:

  • Trespassing in a way that is likely to cause fear in another person
  • Begging or intimidating in a threatening manner
  • Failing to comply with a direction from a Garda

Indictable offence

If you have been charged with an indictable offence, you will normally be represented by a solicitor and a barrister.

Usually, you will be represented by a solicitor, a Junior Counsel and a Senior Counsel.

Indictable offences are serious charges. Examples of indictable offences include:

  • Murder, attempted murder, or conspiracy to murder
  • Rape
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Piracy

You can read more about summary and indictable offences.

Duties of the defence counsel

The defence counsel is the barrister who presents your case to the court. The main duty of the defence counsel is to defend you whether or not they think or believe you are guilty.

If you are the accused in a criminal trial, your defence counsel must behave according to the following rules:

  • The defence counsel must prioritise a criminal case over all other matters.
  • The defence counsel must be properly briefed – that is, they must have received all the relevant information relating to your case in adequate time before a trial begins.
  • The decision whether or not to give evidence is your decision and not your counsel's.
  • The defence counsel has a duty to stay with you even if you are not accepting their advice.
  • The defence counsel should always be present during the trial. However, if they have to leave due to unforeseen circumstances, they must make sure that you are not left unrepresented, and they must obtain the consent of your solicitor to be absent.
  • Where there are 2 defence counsel, neither may leave the trial except temporarily and for good reason.
  • The defence counsel cannot withdraw from your case because of any conduct or remarks made by the trial judge, unless it is in your best interests.
  • If you are in custody, the defence counsel must get the court’s permission before withdrawing.
  • If you flee, your legal representation may withdraw from the case.
  • If you are convicted, the defence counsel has a duty to see you and to appear for you in any appeal unless they have advised against the appeal.

Duty to the court

The defence counsel also owes a duty to the court. They must not knowingly state a lie in court.

If you tell your defence counsel that you are guilty before the start of the trial, they can continue to act for you whether you choose to plead guilty or not guilty in court.

However, if you plead not guilty, they are very restricted as to the type of defence they can mount on your behalf.

Help with paying for legal representation

If you have been accused of a crime and cannot afford legal representation, you may apply to get criminal legal aid from the State.

You apply for criminal legal aid in court. If a judge grants you legal aid, you will be issued with a legal aid certificate to cover any costs associated with preparing your defence and going to court.

You can read more about criminal legal aid on the websites of the Department of Justice, the Law Society, and the Legal Aid Board (which does not provide criminal legal aid).

Further Information

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, you should seek legal advice. You can search the Law Society website to find a solicitor or firm.

Page edited: 24 August 2023