Crown Court Trial

Crown Court Trial

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Introduction

This should give an overview of how a Crown Court trial works. There will generally be hearings in advance of the first day of the trial which we have covered in a separate post.

Preliminary Matters

Before the jury is ‘sworn’ which marks the start of the trial, there may be matters to sort out, for example the ‘admissibility of evidence’ (whether the jury should hear certain pieces of evidence – see here for an example in relation to hearsay). This part can sometimes take days, and sometimes there is nothing to sort out.

We have covered how a jury is ‘sworn’ here.

Prosecution Opening

The first thing is that the jury will hear the Court Clerk read out the ‘indictment’ – the charge sheet stating what the defendant is supposed to have done. A sample one is here. Almost all prosecutions in the Crown Court are done in the name of ‘The Queen’ (Regina, or R, is Latin for queen).

The Prosecutor (a solicitor-advocate or barrister who represents the prosecution) will then ‘open the case’. This will be relatively short. The aim is not to ‘stick the boot’ in to the defendant, but set out briefly what the allegation is and what evidence it is expected the jury will hear.

There will not be a lot of law in what the Prosecutor says, normally no more than the ‘burden and standard of proof’. The defence will not make a speech at this stage.

Prosecution Case

The prosecution always goes first in a criminal trial. They have brought the case against the defendant to the Court and they have to prove it. They will do this by adducing (bringing forward to the jury) evidence to show that their case is right. There are different ways of doing this:

Oral Evidence from a witness

This will often be the main form of evidence. A witness will be brought into court (they will not have heard whatever has happened before in the trial so that their evidence is ‘fresh’) and they will swear (or affirm) to tell the truth.

The prosecutor will go first. This is called ‘examination in chief’. An overview is here that sets out the ‘dos and donts’. The aim is to get the story of what happened over to the jury.

After that, the defence lawyer will ‘cross-examine’ the witness. The lawyer can ask questions about anything, not just what the witness has said in examination in chief. There will be points of further clarification that haven’t been covered before. The aim of the lawyer is, normally, to show that the witness is not telling the truth, or has made a mistake, or in some way cannot be relied upon. We have covered some of the difficulties that can arise, as well as the duty of the lawyer is here.

Witnesses sometimes have other exhibits, such as clothing, photographs or CCTV evidence that is shown to the Court.

Written Evidence from a witness

All prosecution witness will have made a statement to the police (an example of one is here). Sometimes it will be the case that their evidence is not in dispute and in those circumstances it is a waste of time for them to come to court, give their evidence and not be asked any questions. If the defence agree, then their statements can be read to the jury (edited if needs be). This is often called ‘being read s9’ after the legislation that allowed it (s9 Criminal Justice Act 1967).

If the witness who’s statement is read produces an exhibit, then this exhibit can also be shown.

Admissions

The third form of evidence is admissions. These are things that are agreed between both parties and are read to the jury. Often this will be a convenient way of summarising statements that could be read.

The last witness is normally the Police Officer who is in charge of the investigation (called the ‘OIC – Officer in the Case). As well as answering questions about the investigation, they will read any interview that the police conducted.

‘Half Time’

At the end of the Prosecution case there is often a short break in order to take stock of where everything is. Sometimes there will be a ‘half time submission’. This is where the defence ask the Judge to rule that the case should stop at that point. It will occasionally be called a ‘Galbraith submission’ after the case of R v Galbraith [1981] 1 WLR 1039.

This will be heard with the jury out of the courtoom (as is the case with any legal argument – this is because if there is disputed evidence it would defeat the object of not admitting it if the jury hear it).

The test is as follows:

“(1) If there is no evidence that the crime alleged has been committed by the defendant, there is no difficulty. The judge will of course stop the case. (2) The difficulty arises where there is some evidence but it is of a tenuous character, for example because of inherent weakness or vagueness or because it is inconsistent with other evidence. (a) Where the judge comes to the conclusion that the prosecution evidence, taken at its highest, is such that a jury properly directed could not properly convict upon it, it is his duty, upon a submission being made, to stop the case. (b) Where however the prosecution evidence is such that its strength or weakness depends on the view to be taken of a witness’s reliability or other matters which are generally speaking within the province of the jury and where on one possible view of the facts there is evidence upon which a jury could properly come to the conclusion that the defendant is guilty, then the judge should allow the matter to be tried by the jury…. There will of course, as always in this branch of the law, be borderline cases. They can safely be left to the discretion of the judge.”

This sort of application is not made that often. If a Judge refuses the application, that does not mean that he thinks the defendant is guilty, just that it is possible that a jury could convict.

Defence case

This runs the same as the prosecution case. However, it is up to the defendant whether or not he gives evidence. They will make a decision with their lawyer as to whether or not to do so. If he doesn’t give evidence, however, it is likely that the Judge will tell the jury that they may hold that against him (it is a complicated area – see the Crown Court benchbook for some guidance).

Speeches and Summing Up

After the evidence has been heard, there will normally be a break whilst the Judge and the lawyers discuss what directions should be given to the jury. There will then be speeches from the prosecution lawyer and the defence lawyer. These will be attempts to persuade the jury that their respective cases are correct (and the prosecution speech will generally be a lot more of an attempt to persuade than the opening speech).

After the speeches, the Judge will sum the case to the jury. We have covered it in more detail here. If you want more information, an example of a summing up from the ‘Chris Huhne/Vicky Pryce’ trial is here.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

9 COMMENTS

    • Hi Helen Christmas, not sure if you got your answer so thought I would offer something.

      As far as I’m aware, once the prosecution rests, they are not allowed to call any new witnesses and must dedicate themselves exclusively to destroying the credibility of the witnesses called by the defence.

      I hope that helps. I’m gestating a book myself.

      • Hello and no, I didn’t get an answer, so many thanks for your advice. So it looks as if I need to change the scenario I have written.

        Would it be credible for the witness to appear, just before the hearing for the defence was about to start? This story line is a twist and needs to have a certain shock factor. It would be an interruption in the proceedings, whatever the outcome and the judge definitely wants to hear what this man has to say. (It is a conspiracy to murder trial)

        By the way, I am more than happy to add a credit in my book for the advice you have offered me.

        Thanks again and good luck with your own book.

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