The information below gives an overview of the work of each of the legal sections within the Office of the DPP. If you are a victim or witness, you may wish to visit our section on the Criminal Justice System for more detailed information on what happens when:

  • a crime is reported
  • a file goes to the DPP
  • the DPP decides to prosecute or not to prosecute
  • a case goes to court

The prosecutors in the Directing Division examine the investigation files and decide if:

  • there should be a prosecution or
  • a prosecution started by the Gardaí should continue

The decision by the prosecutor will indicate the charges, if any, to be brought before the courts.  In some cases, the prosecutor may ask for more information and an investigation before they decide.

To prosecute, there must be evidence which could, though not necessarily would, lead a court or a jury to decide, beyond reasonable doubt, that the person is guilty of the offence. This type of evidence is called prima facie evidence.

The Directing Division also makes other decisions including whether or not to:

  • accept pleas of guilty to lesser offences
  • bring appeals to higher courts (like the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court) about points of law or
  • seek a review of an unduly lenient sentence (where it is believed that a judge was wrong in law to give a light sentence)

District Court Section

The District Court Section represents the DPP in Dublin at summary hearings (hearings by a judge of less serious crimes) in the District Court and appeals to the Circuit Court.  This also involves:

  • advising Gardaí about legal issues
  • identifying what evidence, witnesses and exhibits are needed for a hearing.

The prosecutors in the District Court Section make sure the rights of the victim are protected throughout the hearing.

District Court Section prosecutors also prepare Books of Evidence for cases that will go on to a higher court (such as the Dublin Circuit Court, Central Criminal Court or Special Criminal Court). A Book of Evidence includes all witness statements and exhibits relating to a case. The District Court prosecutors decide what evidence (witness statements and exhibits) is needed for the Book of Evidence. If necessary, they may ask the Gardaí for more evidence or exhibits.

The prosecutors in the District Court Section will work with the Judicial Review Section of the Office in relation to Judicial Reviews or Cases Stated.

The majority of cases in the District Court in Dublin are dealt with by the Gardaí without involving the DPP.

Circuit Court Section

This section deals with more serious offences than those dealt with by the District Court Section.  Every case starts in the District Court but can be sent to the Circuit Court if:

  • the DPP directs that the case be dealt with in the Circuit Court
  • a District Court Judge decides the case is too serious to be dealt with in the District Court and must be moved to the Circuit Court
  • an accused person wants their case dealt with in the Circuit Court (this only applies to a small number of offences, for example burglary, robbery, theft and sexual assault.

Main differences between cases dealt with in the District Court and Circuit Court:

District Court Circuit Court
Less serious crimes More serious crimes
Judge decides if accused is innocent or guilty Jury decides if accused is innocent or guilty
Judge has limited sentencing options.
Examples:
  • Sentences up to a maximum of 12 months for one offence
  • Small fines and compensation payments
Judge has wider sentencing options.
Examples:
  • longer prison sentences
  • bigger fines

Legal staff in the Circuit Court Section perform a large number of tasks including:

  • supporting private barristers working for the DPP to present the prosecution case in court in Dublin
  • attending meetings (pre-trial meetings) with victims and prosecution barristers
  • preparing relevant materials called ‘disclosure’ (such as custody records, witness statements and memos of interviews) that will be given to the defence
  • preparing cases for trial, including preparing witness orders (an order to attend court to give evidence), additional evidence and so on
  • liaising with the Gardaí and the prosecutor in our Directing Division who made the decision in each case
  • dealing with defence queries and requests.

Superior Courts Section (Central Court and Special Criminal Court)

This section deals with:

  • charges that are prosecuted in the Central Criminal Court (also known as the High Court). This includes murder, attempted murder, rape and aggravated sexual assault. The cases may come from anywhere in the State. Approximately six judges are assigned to deal with Central Criminal Court cases, most in Dublin and one in Munster.
  • charges that are prosecuted in the Special Criminal Court. This court sits without a jury and has three judges, usually one each from the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court. The Special Criminal Court deals with:
    • terrorism-related offences such as membership of an unlawful organisation (for example IRA or INLA), firearms offences and explosive offences and
    • gangland-type charges when there is a concern that a jury may be interfered with.
  • cases dealt with by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (but these prosecutions are less frequent). This Commission enforces competition and protects consumer protection law in Ireland in relation to a range of areas.

Special Financial Unit

The Special Financial Unit deals with large-scale financial or corporate cases. It works primarily with the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

The principal role of the unit is to consider and, if necessary, to prosecute serious financial and corporate crimes including:

  • complex economic (including transnational) crimes
  • complex money-laundering cases (cases where money that is made from criminal dealings is passed through a business so that it appears to come from legitimate sources)
  • financial crimes which have a significant impact on the public
  • serious regulatory and corporate criminal cases
  • all cases of foreign bribery.

Appeals Section

The Appeals Section manages the DPP’s role in the Court of Appeal (criminal cases) and the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal takes appeals from the lower courts (except the District Court).  Broadly speaking, appeals fall into three categories:

  1. appeals taken by the convicted person against either their conviction or the severity of their sentence
  2. appeals taken by the DPP against unduly lenient sentences (where a judge made a mistake on a legal point) and on some other points of law
  3. appeals to the Supreme Court on points of law in cases of special legal importance. This means that the Supreme Court looks at two things before deciding whether to hear the appeal:
    1. whether the appeal asks the Supreme Court to answer questions of general public importance, or
    2. whether the Supreme Court, in the interests of justice, should hear the appeal

Judicial Review Section

This section has six core areas of responsibility.

  1. Judicial Review
    A Judicial Review is where the High Court reviews the decision of a lower court to see if the decision-making process was fair. For example, where a Judge by mistake imposes a sentence that is higher than the maximum sentence allowed by law.
  2. Habeas Corpus Cases
    These are applications to the High Court about how legal it is to detain a person.  For example, a defendant might claim they were unlawfully detained because the lower court remanded them in custody without giving them a proper bail hearing.
  3. Cases Stated
    These are cases a judge refers to either the High Court (from the District Court) or the Court of Appeal (from the Circuit Court). The judge does this when they wish to ask the higher court to clarify a question of law that arose during the prosecution of an accused.
  4. Bail cases in the High Court
    Bail is where an accused person agrees to certain conditions and pays, or promises to pay, an amount of money. The judge then allows the person to stay out of prison until their trial.  If the person does not turn up to court when he should, the person may have to pay money.
    Most bail applications are made to the District Court.  However, in cases where the accused is charged with a serious offence (such as murder or conspiracy to murder), the District Court has no power to grant bail.  These applications must be made to the High Court. The Judicial Review Section deals with such bail applications in the High Court.
    The section also processes all bail appeals to the High Court from the lower courts. These may be appeals against the refusal of bail in the lower courts or applications to vary the terms of bail which were set in the lower courts.
  5. Costs Recovery and Payment
    The Judicial Review Section has a Costs Unit which processes orders for costs made in criminal cases either in favour of or against the Director.
  6. Plenary Summonses
    A Plenary Summons is used mainly for damages. An example is an action for damages which a person takes against the State (that is, against the DPP, the Gardaí and Chief State Solicitor) where they claim that their detention was unlawful because of the actions of the trial judge. For example, a person is remanded in custody (charged with an offence and denied bail) by the lower court and the High Court has released them from custody as a result of a habeas corpus claim.

International Unit

This unit deals with international criminal law, including:

  • European Arrest Warrants (EAWs),
  • extradition (handing over of a criminal to the country where the crime was committed)
  • requests for mutual legal assistance.

It also deals with criminal assets seizing cases referred to the Office of the DPP.

European Arrest Warrants

A court in one EU member state can ask a court in another member state to issue an arrest warrant for someone wanted in connection with a crime.

The International Unit in the Office of the DPP deals with outgoing requests to the EU where an accused person is wanted in Ireland for a crime to be prosecuted here.

For example, if the Gardaí want to arrest someone living in another EU member state, they can ask the Office of the DPP to apply to the High Court for a European Arrest Warrant (EAW). This is then sent to the country where the person is living. EAWs have been sought for a wide range of serious offences including:

  • murder
  • sexual offences
  • drugs offences
  • thefts
  • serious assaults

Extradition

If someone is living outside the European Union, the Extradition Unit of An Garda Síochána can ask the DPP to issue an extradition request. This is a request to hand over a criminal to the country where the crime was committed. These requests are then sent through diplomatic channels to the relevant country.

At present Ireland has two-way legal agreements called bi-lateral extradition treaties with the United States of America, Hong Kong and Australia. Ireland has also ratified (officially approved) the European Convention on Extradition. This means that criminals can be extradited to the country where the crime was committed to do one of the following:

  • stand trial
  • face sentencing after conviction
  • serve a sentence already handed down by a country’s court.

The International Unit in the Office of the DPP deals with outgoing extradition requests where an accused person is wanted in Ireland for a crime to be prosecuted here.

Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) Requests

Under the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008, Ireland can provide mutual legal assistance to, and ask for mutual legal assistance from, other countries in criminal investigations or criminal proceedings. For example, the Gardaí might want to ask the relevant authorities in another country to interview witnesses, or to provide details about an individual involved in a criminal investigation. These details might include:

  • bank records
  • police records
  • emails
  • social media posts of an individual involved in a criminal investigation

The Gardaí or Revenue Commissioners send requests for mutual legal assistance to the International Unit in the Office of the DPP for approval.  Once finalised and signed, these requests are then sent to the Central Authority in the Department of Justice and Equality, which then sends them to the relevant country.

Criminal Assets Seizing

Taking the assets of convicted criminals can be an effective way to reduce criminal activity.

The International Unit advises and supports prosecutors in applications to confiscate or freeze criminal assets both in Ireland and abroad.  Together with other government departments and agencies, the unit also reviews the procedures and structures for criminal asset seizure in the State.

Prosecution Policy and Research Unit

The responsibilities of this unit in the Office of the DPP include:

  • developing policy responses to a range of issues both internally and externally with others involved in criminal justice, both nationally and internationally
  • providing a research service to prosecutors
  • managing and developing the Office’s library
  • developing and implementing knowledge and information management strategies.

Victims Liaison Unit

The Victims Liaison Unit (VLU) is responsible for making sure the Office of the DPP meets its obligations in respect of the rights, support and protection of victims as set out in the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017.

The Act defines a victim of crime as someone who has suffered physical, mental or emotional harm, or economic loss, which was directly caused by an offence. This includes family members of someone whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence and who have suffered harm as a result of that person’s death.

The work of the VLU covers a range of areas:

  • When a decision is made to prosecute: the VLU will make sure that victims of crime have the information they need to take part in the criminal prosecution process and the benefit of the protections that are available to them.
  • When a decision is made not to prosecute: the VLU will, on written request, give the reason for the decision not to prosecute. If a victim of crime wants to have the decision not to prosecute reviewed, the VLU will arrange for a review to be carried out.
  • The VLU provides a telephone information service for victims. However, for reasons of security and confidentiality, the unit cannot discuss the details of any case over the telephone with victims of crime.
  • The VLU provides training on issues affecting victims of crime to staff, State solicitors, prosecution counsel, Gardaí, the Law Society, Bar Council, non-governmental organisations such as victim support groups and others.

The VLU regularly meets with non-government victim support organisations and takes part in inter-departmental (with departments such as the Department of Justice and Equality) working groups on behalf of the Office.