Will the case go to court
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is the principal prosecuting authority in Northern Ireland, deciding whether or not to prosecute people for committing criminal offences. In addition to taking independent decisions as to prosecution in cases investigated by the police in Northern Ireland, the PPS also considers cases investigated by other statutory authorities, such as HM Revenue and Customs.
The decision to prosecute
When the PPS receives a case file from the police, which includes witness statements and other evidence, they may ask the police to make further investigations if they believe extra information is needed to take a fully informed decision.
A decision to prosecute is based on two tests:
- the evidential test - is there enough evidence to believe that there is a reasonable prospect of a conviction?
- the public interest test - is it in the public interest to prosecute?
If the PPS prosecutor decides that there is enough evidence to prosecute, and that it is in the public interest to do so, they will direct a prosecution. They decide what offences the defendant should be prosecuted for, prepare the papers, and prosecute the case in court.
If you are the victim in the case, you will be informed in writing of the prosecution decision. If the decision is not to prosecute, you will also be informed of that decision in writing, and in a range of more serious cases you will be given reasons for the decision not to prosecute.
At this stage the PPS must decide if prosecution at court is the most appropriate way of dealing with the case.
Alternatives to formal court processes
Alternatives to court (diversionary options) are:
- informed warning – this is a formal reprimand by the police, and although it is not a conviction, it is recorded on the person’s criminal record for 12 months
- caution – this is another type of formal reprimand by the police, it is recorded on a person’s criminal record for five years in the case of an adult or 30 months in the case of a young person
- diversionary youth conference – this is available in appropriate cases if the offender is under the age of 18, admits the offence and consents to the conference
Diversionary Youth Conference
The Youth Justice Agency is responsible for organising and running diversionary youth conferences. A Youth Conference Co-ordinator will devise a plan and it will be sent for the prosecutor to approve. It may involve a meeting or series of meetings with the young offender, their parents or a responsible adult and a police officer. If you are the victim in the case you will be invited to attend if you wish.
Starting prosecution proceedings
If a decision is made to prosecute, a case can be commenced with either a charge sheet or a summons.
If it is by way of a charge sheet, this involves the police charging the suspect, who has been arrested, and the PPS reviewing the charge before the first court appearance to ensure that there is sufficient evidence at that stage for the defendant to be prosecuted. The defendant will either be:
- held in police custody overnight and produced at the first available court, where the court will then have to consider the issue of bail, or
- released on police bail to appear before court on a stated date within 28 days from the charge
- Custody and bail
If the case is commenced by way of a summons, this is issued by the PPS and is served on the defendant either by post or in person. The defendant will be required to attend court on the date stated on the summons.