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Can you refuse to make a statement?

Updated: May 12, 2022


If a complaint has been made against you the Gardai will usually speak with you, outline the complaint to you and invite you to make a statement in response.

Nobody has to make a statement if they do not want to do, but sometimes tactically it makes sense to do so.

First of all though, what is a complaint?

A complaint is a statement in writing, signed by a witness, alleging that somebody else has broken the law.

Usually the complainant is somebody directly affected by the wrongdoing. An example here would be a shop owner who witnesses somebody stealing something from their shop.

The shopkeeper makes a statement to the Gardai about it. This statement is in writing, and it will outline certain details: the identity of the person who stole the item from their shop, as well as the date and time when this happened. The complainant signs the statement, and the Garda witnesses it and the complainant knows that they may be required to give evidence in court at some point.

So, should you make a statement to the police?
In general terms I’m in favour of making
statements to the Gardai
if I’m denying the charge against me.

The shop owner in this case is known as the complainant as they are the ones who are making the complaint. They are also the injured party, the person who has suffered the wrongdoing.

What generally happens is that the Gardai approaches the person against whom the allegation is made. They inform that person that a complaint has been made against them in writing and they’ll usually invite that person to make a statement to respond to the allegation.

They do this because they themselves did not witness the wrongdoing or criminal act. In order to bring someone before the courts the Gardai need a witness, a complainant, whose complaint is the evidence needed to bring the prosecution.

An exception to this rule is where the Gardai themselves are the witnesses to the offence. For instance, if a patrol car drives behind you while you attempt an overtaking manoeuvre by crossing a double-continuous white line approaching a dangerous bend on the road, they do not need to invite you to make a statement to answer the allegation of bad driving.

They don’t need to do this because they witnessed the event themselves. They’ll undoubtedly direct you to pull in and ask you to account for your driving, but they’ll be unlikely to ask you to make a statement about it.

But if the person who witnessed your bad driving was a civilian witness (i.e. not a Garda) the Gardai will ask you to make a statement in response to the allegation of bad driving because the Gardai themselves didn’t witness it.

ONCE A COMPLAINT has been made against you, you have 2 options: either make a statement or not. You do not have to make a statement. Its not mandatory. But if you don’t make a statement to deny the charge against you, you’ll almost certainly be summoned to appear in court at a future date. This is because the State only have ‘one side of the story’: the complainant’s. In that case it’s virtually certain that you’ll be summoned to court.

So, should you make a statement to the police? In general terms -and I’m speaking generally here- I’m in favour of making statements to the Gardai if I’m denying the charge against me. Obviously, you should get legal advice before you do that (as every case is different) but if someone has made a false complaint against you then there are benefits to making a statement denying the charge.

A good reason is that by making a statement you are helping to “balance” the evidence in the case. If only one version of events is given to the Gardai (the complainant’s) then the State will almost certainly prosecute you.

But if you give a statement denying the charge, now the State have two versions of what happened and they now have a decision to make. Do they believe the complainant, or do they think, based on the statement that you have made, that the evidence is inconclusive and a prosecution would be unlikely to succeed in court?

By making a statement to the police it forces the police to investigate more thoroughly and seek out further evidence (e.g. possible other witnesses or CCTV if it exists) to help support the charge they are thinking of bringing against you.

By making a statement and giving your version of events there is a possibility that the State will decide that there is insufficient evidence to support a prosecution.

But by refusing to make a statement you are virtually guaranteeing that you will face court at some future point.

An important point to note: just because somebody calls the Guards on you and makes a complaint over the phone, this does not amount to a complaint in law.

For instance, if I call the Gardai about some bad driving that I have just witnessed I will be asked if I wish to make a statement for court about it. If I say yes, then I can make a that statement and this statement will be used as evidence against the other driver.

But if I say no, if I refuse to make a statement for court, then there is no evidence (statement in writing) that the Gardai can use to bring a prosecution against the other driver.

So the complaint must be in writing, signed by the complainant, who knows that it will be used for court.

An anonymous phone call to a Garda station is not a complaint.


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