Jurisdiction of District Court
The District Court may only hear cases where it has jurisdiction by statute. Legal representatives or parties may challenge the jurisdiction or the validity of proceedings. This will generally be done at the outset of the proceedings.
Laws may not be challenged as to their invalidity under the Constitution in the District Court or Circuit Court.
Generally, District Court proceedings are held in public. The public may be excluded that the discretion of the court in certain cases. For example, if a criminal proceeding involves material of an indecent or obscene nature, involve a child witness or party or if circumstances otherwise justify it, the court may restrict access. Bona fide representatives of the press and others may be permitted to remain.
The parties are entitled to appear personally or through their legal representative. Prosecutions may be made by the DPP or by individual members of an Garda Siochana. With the leave or consent of court certain close relatives of the accused may appear on his behalf.
A District Court judge wears a black coat and gown of a uniform nature. This does not apply in family law cases. A judge is generally referred to as judge or a bhreithimh.
Where a person is blind or partly sighted, whether a party or legal representative, the court may permit him to be accompanied by such other person as may be required to give assistance.
Certain witnesses can be heard by a video link. In particular person’s in prison may give evidence to video link.
An accused may appear only in order to challenge a summons or defect in the proceedings. However, unless he appears specifically to so challenge, attendance will cure any defect in the summons. Unlike other documents, the proceedings are founded on the summons. The summons is a mechanism to procure attendance in court to answer a complaint.
If an accused appears and pleads guilty, he may be sentenced or fined, immediately or on an adjourned occasion. If he appears and does not plead guilty, then the complaint is dealt with by way of a hearing. If accused does not appear and the prosecution appears, the case may be heard in his absence. There will be nobody present to give evidence to rebut the complaint and he is more likely to be convicted.
As an alternative to hearing, the court may issue a warrant to compel his attendance. The warrant is executed by an Garda Siochana
Prior Access to Evidence
It is a basic obligation of the judge to adopt and ensure fair procedures at hearings. The general rules of evidence and court procedures should generally assure the requisite standard of fairness as required by the Constitution. However, circumstances may require modification of the usual rules to ensure fair procedures in the circumstances.
Generally, in summary trials, there is no right to access the documents in advance. . This is in contrast with trials on indictment, where a full book of evidence is prepared and served long before the trial. If necessary in the interests of justice, an accused may be entitled to copies of the witness statement and other evidence held by the prosecution, in a summary trial.
The judge decides whether in the circumstances the accused should be entitled to a copy of the evidence in advance. The right follows from the requirements of constitutional fair procedures and would arise in serios cases, in particular where there is a significant risk of imprisonment.
The general rule that a person is not supplied with a copy of the evidence applies to indictable offences tried summarily. However, in some circumstances, fundamental fairness requires that such statement as are appropriate be furnished. This will depend on the importance of the statements, the seriousness of the charge, whether the accused had already been informed of the charge and the likelihood of injustice.
It is a matter for the District judge to determine what evidence should be furnished. The accused should generally request the evidence informally and if refused, the matter may be listed before the judge.
The general principle in such cases, is that the prosecution is obliged to disclose relevant evidence and its possession. The extend of the duty depends on what is appropriate, having regard to constitutional justice, fair procedures, and due process of law.
Where no statements exist from witnesses, a general statement of the evidence proposed be tendered should be served. The court may require that the accused receives the copy of the recording of Garda questioning. The court may make the order at its discretion and subject to such conditions as it specifies.
A judge may adjourn any proceedings to another occasion or to some other place in the District. A judge may adjourn proceedings on such terms as he sees fit. They may be adjourned generally with liberty to reenter. In this case. they may be reentered by giving not less than ten days’ notice to the court office and other side and lodging proof of notice of the proceedings within four days.
The court may adjourn an application and notify the accused in lieu of hearing the complaint or issuing a warrant. It may do so, if it considers that it is undesirable in the interest of justice due to the seriousness of the offence, to hear the matter in the absence of the accused.
The court has discretion as to the terms as granting and adjournment and as to the terms on which it might be granted. A judge may adjourn proceedings peremptorily which means that generally, no further adjournments will be granted. A judge may grant a further adjournment, as the earlier adjournment cannot bind him on the later occasion.
Where a case is adjourned, a person may be remanded in custody or on bail. Remanding in custody would only apply to more serious offences. See our chapter in relation to bail and remand.
Where are case takes more than two hours, it will generally be fixed for a particular hearing date.
A judge may amend any summons for the purpose of determining the real questions at issue. The amendment may be granted on such terms as the judge sees fit. If the amendment is such as prejudices any parties, he may adjourn the case or if necessary refuse the amendment or strike out the proceedings.
Where there is a variation between the evidence offered as to the time or place where the offences commit, the variation is not to be deemed material provided the offence was committed within any applicable time limit and the defendant resides within the jurisdiction of the District Court. The judge may amend the summons in accordance with the above criteria or procedure.
An amendment may be made pursuant to an application to the judge. If the variation or amendment in the summons is such as to have misled or prejudiced the accused, or might affect the merits of the case, the court may refuse to make the amendment and may dismiss the proceedings either without prejudiced, or on the merits and finally.
Summons Witness and Contempt
Any person who requires a witness to attend court to give evidence or produce a document may procure the issue of a witness summons from the court office. This must be served at least three days before the hearing.
As with other courts, a person may be punished for contempt of court either in the face of the court or for refusal to obey a court order. A person may be committed to prison for contempt of court.
For a person who has been summonsed as a witness fails or refuse to appear without just excuse, then upon proof of service that person may be arrested on foot of a warrant issued by the court. Where the judge is satisfied on an application that the person will probably not attend without being compelled to do so or warrant may be issued in the first instance.
If a person is brought before the court on foot of his arrest, the judge may remand him in custody or on bail on entry into a recognizance.