Will the case go to court

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is the principal prosecuting authority in Northern Ireland, deciding if people should be prosecuted for committing criminal offences. They also decide on prosecution in cases investigated by the police, and consider cases investigated by other statutory authorities, such as HM Revenue and Customs.

Deciding 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 best way of dealing with the case.

Alternatives to formal court processes

In some cases the PPS will alternatives to court or diversionary options. These include:

  • 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 cases if the offender is under the age of 18, admits the offence and consents to the conference

Find out more about the youth justice system.

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 make sure there is enough 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
  • released on police bail to appear before court on a stated date within 28 days from the charge

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 go to court on the date stated on the summons.

​Find out more about custody and bail.

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