We have compiled some frequently asked questions on matters relating to criminal law and dealing with the various aspects of a criminal case.

The Gardai want to talk to me - what should I do ?

As soon as you become aware that the Gardai want to talk to you, you should talk to a solicitor. Some people think that it is the mark of a guilty person to take this approach – this is simply not so. For example, you may think you are going to see the Gardai as a witness in a case, or even as a victim, whereas the Gardai may wish to question you as a suspect. You need to know your rights, entitlements and obligations before you attend at a Garda station. Your visit to the station may be the beginning of a long and difficult road for you, and as with any journey,  you need to be prepared. Your solicitor will know the questions to ask in order to assist you on your way to making a decision that is in your best interests.

I made a fool of myself last Friday night and was arrested and now I have to go to court. I don't want anyone to know about it - I am just going to plead guilty. Isn't that the best thing to do ?

It is probably a very poor idea to go to court on your own and plead guilty. The is a very good chance that your day in court could leave you with a criminal record. You need legal representation. A solicitor who is used to being in court every day will know exactly what is likely to happen, and what you need to do to give yourself the best possible outcome. You should contact a solicitor before you go to court. You can then fully and properly prepare for your case – remember, the Judge will only have minutes to decide what to do with the case, and you need to fill those minutes properly, with the assistance of a solicitor who knows the law and procedures.

How do I get a solicitor for court ? Can I get Legal Aid ?

If you have never been in court before and have the time, it might be an idea to go along to the court that you are due to attend in advance of your own court date, so you can see for yourself how the court operates. You can also see the solicitors, and can get an idea of what to expect. You can choose a solicitor from those you see , or you can source a solicitor on the Internet or by word of mouth – you should make enquiries in order to be satisfied with the solicitor you choose.

You should not simply turn up on the day and choose the first solicitor you see – a criminal prosecution is very serious and can have very serious consequences. You need to prepare in advance, and this includes instructing a solicitor who can fully advise you, to enable you to get the best possible outcome of your case. You may need references or other items and if you know about these things in advance, your time in court may be considerably shortened.

Also , your solicitor will be able to advise you about Legal Aid. If you are unemployed, and it is appropriate given the matter in court, you should qualify for Legal Aid. Also, many people who are working qualify for Legal Aid. It is a means test, based on a form you fill out – you will either qualify, or you won’t.

If you do qualify for Legal Aid, you will be legally represented at no cost to yourself. And don’t forget, solicitors who are on the Legal Aid panel are usually in court every day and are very familiar with Criminal Law, and the procedures involved in court cases, which should be of great assistance and reassurance to you.

I have to go to court and am terrified - I don't know what to expect.

If you can , go along to court on a day before the day you have to go,  and watch what happens. Then, get legal advice as to how best to deal with your case. You need to know the case against you,  the law involved, your chances on a plea of Not Guilty, the implications of being found guilty, the likely outcomes on a plea of guilty, and what you need to bring to court. Your time with the Judge will be limited, and you need to know how best you can use that time – and how best to achieve the result that you need to allow you to move on from the court case.

I have been told that my case is to go before a Judge and Jury - why is this ?

Cases that are deemed to be “minor” are dealt with in the District Court, which is a court with a Judge sitting alone. Cases that are deemed to be serious will be sent to a higher court. All cases start in the District Court, but in the serious cases, you will be given  what is known as a “book of evidence” and your case will finish in the District Court and will then  be sent to the higher court (either the Circuit Court or the Central Criminal Court,  depending on the charges) to be dealt with there.

If you plead Not Guilty in the higher court, your case will be decided by a Judge and Jury. Put simply, the Judge decides the law and the Jury decide the facts.  If the jury finds that you are guilty, the Judge will sentence you.

If you plead Guilty in the higher court, there is no jury, and the Judge will decide your sentence.

This is a simplified description of the procedures – you would need to contact a solicitor with a specific query to get more detailed information.

Contact Fiona Brennan Solicitor

If you would like to have a confidential discussion about your legal query or requirements you can contact Fiona Brennan directly on 087 0929404 (mobile) or 01 6978509 (office). Alternatively you can email info@fionabrennansolicitor.ie with your query.