When a decision is made to take a prosecution, the Gardaí charge the suspect.  The Gardaí bring the suspect before a District Court judge.  From this point on, the suspect is known as ‘the accused’ or ‘the defendant’.

The Gardaí tell the victim that the accused has been charged. The Gardaí should also tell the victim the time, date and place of the court hearing.

Once the Gardaí have charged the accused, the prosecution will write down the evidence against the accused. The document that contains the evidence is called the book of evidence and is an important part of the case.

  • It includes statements from witnesses, including the victim.
  • It includes other documents and a list of any physical evidence, such as photographs or weapons, that will appear in court.
  • It sets out the evidence that the prosecution thinks witnesses will give in court.

When the prosecution has gathered all the evidence they need for the trial, the Gardaí will give the book of evidence to the accused. Once this happens,the District Court judge will set a date for the trial and, in most cases, decide which court will hear the case. Sometimes, the DPP will decide which court will hear the case.

This depends on what type of crime is committed.  Crimes are divided into two types  – summary offences and indictable offences.

Summary offences

  • are less serious crimes;
  • are heard by a judge without a jury in the District Court; and
  • carry a maximum prison sentence of 12 months for one offence.

If a judge in the District Court hears the case, either a Garda or a solicitor from the DPP’s Office may present the case.

Indictable offences

  • are more serious crimes;
  • are heard by a judge and jury in the Circuit Court or the Central Criminal Court;
  • carry more serious penalties if the court convicts the accused – up to life imprisonment for some crimes; and
  • are sometimes dealt with in the Special Criminal Court by three judges without a jury.

If a judge and jury hear the case, a solicitor working for the DPP will prepare the case for court. A barrister acting on behalf of the DPP will present the prosecution case in court.


The District Court

This is the first court to which Gardaí take the accused.  In the District Court, a judge:

  • hears details of the charges against the accused;
  • says whether a case is ready to go to trial; and
  • hears trials for less serious cases (summary offences) without a jury.

If the accused pleads ‘not guilty’ in the District Court, the prosecution will call witnesses to give evidence to try to prove that the accused is guilty.

Circuit Court and Central Criminal Court

These courts hold trials that are more serious than those in the District Court.  In these courts, the judge is joined by a jury. The jury must decide if the accused is guilty or innocent.

Special Criminal Court

This court is similar to the Circuit and Central Criminal Courts, except:

  • there is no jury; and
  • three judges hear each case.