Legal representation in criminal cases


There are 2 types of criminal offence:

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

If you have been charged with a summary offence, you may be represented by a solicitor and/or a barrister. Criminal legal aid is not generally available at the District Court.

If you have been charged with an indictable offence, you will normally be represented by a solicitor and a barrister (counsel). Usually, you will be represented by a solicitor, a junior counsel and a senior counsel.

If you qualify for criminal legal aid, the state will cover the cost of your lawyers.

Duties of the Defence Counsel

The main duty of the defence counsel to you 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 always give a criminal case priority over all other matters.
  • The defence counsel is under a duty to stay with you even if you are not accepting their advice.
  • The defence counsel cannot withdraw from your case because of any conduct or remarks made by the trial judge, unless it is your best interests.
  • If you are in custody, the defence counsel must get the court’s permission before withdrawing.
  • The defence counsel should be present throughout the trial at all times. However, if, due to unforeseen circumstances, they have to leave, they must see that you are not at any stage unrepresented and they must obtain the consent of your solicitor to be absent.
  • Where there are two defence counsel, neither may leave the trial except temporarily and for good reason.
  • The defence counsel must be properly briefed - that is, they must have received all of the relevant information relating to your case in adequate time before a trial begins.
  • The defence counsel also owes a duty to the court. They must not knowingly state a lie in court. If you tell your barrister that you are guilty before the start of the trial, they can continue to act for you if you plead guilty. If you plead not guilty, they are very restricted as to the type of defence they can mount on your behalf.
  • If you flee, your legal representation may withdraw from the case.
  • The decision whether or not to give evidence is your decision and not your counsel's.
  • 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.

Further Information

The Law Society of Ireland has published detailed guidance on criminal legal aid.

You can also access information on criminal legal aid and advice from the Department of Justice.

The Legal Aid Board provide information on criminal legal aid, as well as a document outlining the differences between criminal legal aid and civil legal aid.

Page edited: 12 June 2020