Generally criminal proceedings are started in the District Court (although more serious offences can be initiated in the Special Criminal Court) and are started in one of two ways-by way of District Court summons or the charge sheet procedure.
Most criminal prosecutions in Ireland are brought by the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) although other entities can also prosecute crime in Ireland.
The Attorney General, Dublin City Council, the Competition Authority and others also have the power to bring criminal proceedings.
1. District Court Summons Procedure
A District Court summons is basically an order to appear before the District Court to answer a complaint.
This complaint will have been made by a member of An Garda Siochana and on foot of this complaint a District Court clerk will issue a summons for the attendance of the accused before the District Court to answer the complaint.
The Validity of the Summons
In order for a summons to be valid it must
- State in ordinary language details of the offence of which you are accused
- It must give you the time, date and location of the District Court before which you must appear.
Service of the summons can be carried out in person by a Guard or by post and it must be served 7 days before the Court date.
If there is a serious defect in the Summons, for example omitting the location of the court, then the summons will be struck out by the sitting Judge.
Time Limits for the Issuing of A Summons
The time limit for the issuing of a summons is that the complaint must be made to the District Court clerk within 6 months of the alleged offence, provided the offence is a minor or summary offence.
Indictable Offences Time Limits
Indictable offences do not have time limits imposed and can be prosecuted at any time after the alleged offence.
2. Charge Sheet Procedure
Offences can also be prosecuted by way of the charge sheet procedure in the District Court.
The charge sheet procedure involves the arrest of the alleged offender and transportation to the garda station where the arrested person will be given a sheet which sets out the facts of the alleged offense and the charge.
Once the charge is read out to the accused person, any remarks or comments made by him will be noted on the charge sheet.
The accused person may be released on station bail, provided there are no outstanding warrants for his arrest.
If the accused is released on bail he will have to enter a recognizance to compel his appearance before the next sitting of the District court. If he is refused bail he can apply for bail to the Judge at the District Court sitting before which he appears.
If the accused person fails to appear a “bench warrant” will be issued by the Judge for the arrest of the accused to bring him before the court to answer the charges against him.
Once the accused is before the District Court the arresting Garda will give evidence of arrest, charge and caution and will also give evidence of any comments made by the accused.
The charge sheet is then lodged with the District Court clerk.
These are the two methods by which you will find yourself before the District Court to answer criminal charges.
If the alleged offense is not a minor offense but an indictable offense the accused may be sent to the Circuit Criminal Court, the Special Criminal Court or the Central Criminal Court.
If you are in doubt whether you need a solicitor to represent you when facing a criminal charge this video will explain why it is critical to have legal representation in certain circumstances.