It is advisable, even if you do not intend to be represented in court by a lawyer, to get some legal advice before your first court appearance. If you appear in court unrepresented, one of the first things the magistrate will ask you is whether you have had legal advice, and if the answer is “no”, your case may be adjourned for you to get some.
The Legal Services Commission website provides information about legal advice. You may also be able to get legal advice on the day you are in court from the duty solicitor. The duty solicitor is a lawyer who is at the court to give free legal advice to people attending court that day. Duty solicitors are available at most criminal court sittings, mainly to assist people who have been arrested overnight, or who have not been able to obtain legal help beforehand.
The legal aid section has information on where else to get legal advice.
You should attend court on the date and time specified in the summons or bail agreement. When you arrive at court the first thing you should do is look at the case list to find out which courtroom you are listed in. The case list is a list of matters which are set before the courts that day. The list is usually displayed in the court’s public waiting area – if you can’t find it, ask at the information counter or court registry counter.
When you have found the courtroom you will be in, tell the Sheriff’s officer or court officer in that courtroom who you are and why you are there. Then take a seat and wait until your name is called. If you want to see the duty solicitor, get to court earlier and ask for directions to the duty solicitor’s office.
For costs associated with attending court on criminal matters, please refer to the Legal Services Commission Law Handbook.
When you enter into a bail agreement you are making a promise that you will appear in court on a specified date and time. You are not permitted to leave the State while you are on bail unless you get permission from a magistrate. Bail agreements usually specify a monetary amount, which you only have to pay if you breach your bail. A cash bail is one where you are required to pay the sum up front when entering the bail agreement. You get the money back (provided you don’t breach your bail) when the case is finished. A bail agreement can also specify certain conditions of bail, for example you may have to reside at a particular address, or obey a curfew, or be under supervision of a probation officer.
If you fail to attend court when you are required, or if you breach any other condition of your bail, a warrant for your arrest can be issued, and you may also have to pay the amount of your bail (or in the case of a cash bail, you may forfeit the amount you have already paid).
A bail agreement can also require one or more guarantors. When someone acts as guarantor for you they are making a promise that you will appear in court at every required hearing and will obey all the conditions of your bail agreement. As with bail, a monetary amount is usually attached to the guarantee. If you breach your bail agreement, your guarantor may have to pay the amount of the guarantee (or in the case of a cash guarantee, the guarantor won’t get back the money they were required to pay up front).
A bail agreement lasts until your matter is finalised or until a court orders it to end or change. You can apply to the court to vary the conditions of your bail if you have good reasons for doing so. In particular, if your bail has a condition about where you live, if you have to change address you should apply to change your bail before moving.