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The court case
If the case is being heard by a jury, a barrister working for the DPP will present the prosecution case. The barrister will begin by explaining to the jury what the case is about. He or she will then call the witnesses one at a time. When the barrister calls you as a witness, the law says that you must tell the truth.
Who can be a witness in a criminal case?
The prosecution or defence can call anyone who has information about a crime, including the victim, to be a witness at a trial.Return to Top
If I am a witness, how am I called to give evidence?
You will receive a witness summons from the Gardaí. The witness summons is an order from the court for you to give evidence at a particular time and place.Return to Top
If I am a witness or a victim, can I see the book of evidence?
No. You can see a copy of your own statement, but you cannot see the whole book of evidence.Return to Top
Is the case decided on the book of evidence?
No. The court and the jury decide the case on what they hear in evidence at the trial, not on what is in the book of evidence.Return to Top
What is a deposition?
A deposition is a statement by a witness made under oath. Either the prosecution or the defence can ask the judge to allow them to take evidence under oath before the trial. If the judge agrees, a solicitor or barrister will ask you questions under oath in a courtroom. The other side may also ask you questions.
Your answers will be written down. When you have finished giving evidence, the court clerk will read the deposition to you. If you agree that it is correct, you sign it.Return to Top
If I am a witness, how will I give my evidence in court?
The prosecution barrister will ask you questions to get your evidence. He or she cannot ask you any question that could lead you to answer in a certain way (which is called 'leading the witness'). For example, the barrister may ask you questions such as, "What did the accused do?" He or she cannot ask you, "Did you see the accused put his hand across the counter and take money from the cash register?"Return to Top
What happens if I know someone on the jury?
You should not know anyone on the jury. If you do, you should tell the prosecution solicitor or barrister. The judge will not allow anyone who knows the victim or the accused or has any other connections with the case to sit on the jury.Return to Top
What is cross-examination?
When the prosecution has finished asking you questions, the defence may question you. This is called cross-examination and is the only time that a barrister is allowed to ask you leading questions.Return to Top
What does the defence team do in court?
When the prosecution has finished questioning all their witnesses, the defence team will start to make their case.
They have a choice of what to do:
- They can call witnesses to support the defence. If they do this, the prosecution can cross-examine the defence witnesses.
- They can call the accused to give evidence. If they do this, the prosecution can cross-examine the accused.
- They can simply argue that the prosecution has not proved its case. This is because by law the prosecution has to prove that the accused is guilty, but the accused does not need to prove innocence. The jury is not allowed to assume that an accused who does not give evidence is guilty.
How does the jury reach a verdict?
When the prosecution and the defence have finished with their witnesses:
- they take turns to argue their case to the jury;
- the judge sums up the evidence, explains the law to the jury and tells them what to consider to reach their verdict; and
- the jury then go to the jury room to consider a verdict.
If the accused is found not guilty, he or she is free to go. If the accused is found guilty, the judge will sentence him or her. The sentence will usually be decided at a later date. If the jury cannot agree a verdict, the DPP has to decide whether a new trial should take place.Return to Top
Are there any reasons why a trial might not go ahead?
Sometimes a trial cannot go ahead on the date fixed for various reasons, such as:
- an important witness is not available because of illness;
- the defence legal team has changed or is not ready to go ahead;
- the defence team has asked questions about parts of the case;
- the court list is full and there is no judge or court ready to deal with the case; or
- the defence has started a judicial review to stop the trial going ahead.
What is a judicial review?
There are different types of judicial reviews. A common type is where the accused asks the High Court to prevent the trial court or the DPP from going ahead with the trial. For example, an accused might ask the High Court to stop a trial because:
- there was too long a delay by the victim in reporting the crime; or
- the investigation or prosecution of the crime took too long.
If the High Court agrees to stop the trial, the accused goes free. Even if a judicial review does not succeed, it may hold up the trial for a long time.
Judicial reviews can also be taken after the trial and the outcome may affect the verdict or cause a retrial.Return to Top