What Happens At a Crown Court Trial?

I hope this will prepare you for what to expect if you are going face a crown court trial, whether as the person accused of a crime or as a witness or as some other interested party

Lawyers often think that everyone knows what happens at trial. Of course, as a lawyer we may spend many days in the criminal courts so the whole process becomes second nature to us.  What I can say is it is not like what you may have seen in films and shows on TV or Netflix. 

The trial is the process which determines whether or not the defendant (the accused) is guilty of a criminal offence. 

This means that trials will only take place when a defendant pleads Not Guilty. 

If a defendant pleads Guilty there will be no need for a trial and the case will go to sentence. 

There are two parts to a criminal trial: the prosecution case and the defence case. 

First, the prosecution seeks to prove its case by presenting evidence to prove the charge against the defendant. 

At the end of the prosecution case the defence case starts: the defendant is then entitled to present evidence in support of his case, if he chooses to do so.

In a criminal case the prosecution must prove its case against a defendant; it is not for the defendant to prove he is innocent but it is solely for the prosecution to prove he is guilty. This is called the burden of proof and a defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

To prove that a defendant is guilty the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, often referred to as making the jury ‘satisfied so that they are sure’ of the defendant’s guilt. This is the standard of proof.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CROWN COURT TRIAL AND A MAGISTRATES’ COURT TRIAL?

Yes, although both follow a very similar format. The fundamental difference is that in the Crown Court there is a jury and alters some of the procedures.

At trial in the Crown Court the verdict of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ is decided by a jury, except in a very small number of exceptional cases (such as where jury tampering has taken place or there is a real danger of this happening). 

A judge also sits in the Crown Court and deals with legal and procedural matters including directing the jury on matters of law, but the jury assess the evidence and deliver the verdict. The judge and jury therefore have different functions; these are usually referred to as the jury being ‘the judges of the facts’ and the judge as ‘the judge of the law’. 

Jurors are picked at random from the electoral register and receive a jury summons to attend a particular Crown Court on a set date. Where a court finds it is short of a full jury, there is actually a power under section 6 of the Juries Act 1974 ‘to require any persons who are in, or in the vicinity of, the court, to be summoned (without any written notice) for jury service up to the number needed …’

Three types of judge can hear cases in the Crown Court – these are Circuit Judges, Recorders and High Court Judges. 

Circuit Judges hear most Crown Court cases.  They appear on the court list as HHJ (His/Her Honour Judge) followed by their surname.  Circuit Judges wear a black and violet robe with a red tippet (sash) except in the the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) where they wear a black gown. 

Recorders (who are professional lawyers who sit as part-time judges) also regularly hear Crown Court cases.  They wear a black gown. 

Circuit Judges and Recorders are referred to in court as ‘Your Honour’ except at the Old Bailey where they are always referred to as ‘My Lord’/‘My Lady).  The judiciary.gov.uk website has a helpful section on ‘what do I call a judge’. 

Occasionally High Court Judges sit in the Crown Court, and this is usually for very serious or complex cases.  High Court judges (who are often referred to informally by lawyers as ‘red judges’ due to their red robes) are very senior judges and are referred to in court as ‘My Lord’ or ‘My Lady’. 

All judges in the Crown Court wear a short wig (judges only wear long wigs for ceremonial purposes).

Before the prosecution opens the case to the jury the judge will deal with any preliminary legal arguments that need to be resolved. These preliminary matters are usually dealt with just before or just after the jury are sworn and, as with all legal arguments, in the absence of the jury.

Such legal arguments might include applications to rely on a defendant’s or a prosecution witness’s previous convictions or past misconduct (a bad character application) or applications from the defence to exclude certain prosecution evidence as inadmissible (such as, for example, where a defendant was not cautioned before making a statement the prosecution wish to rely upon). There are a number of legal matters that might need to be resolved at this stage depending on the circumstances of the case.

In more complex cases, legal issues are sometimes argued and resolved at pre-trial hearings ordered specifically for that purpose.  The decision as to when such legal arguments take place is made before the trial at an earlier case management hearing in the Crown Court called a Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing (PTPH), or some other pre-trial Directions Hearing.

Twelve jurors are required to start the case. A jury panel of more than twelve will be asked to go into court. In most cases there will be a jury panel of 15 or 16 jurors (more in cases expected to last for a long time) from which the 12 will be chosen at random.  As each juror is called from the panel (s)he will take his/her place in the jury box. 

In cases expected to last for more than 4 weeks the court can start a case with 2 extra jurors who can take the place of any of the 12 who are unable to continue for any reason (e.g. due to illness of the juror or a member of their family). The minimum number required on a jury is 9 people so starting a longer trial with extra jurors reduces the risk of having to abandon a trial. 

Before the jurors take the jury oath or affirmation they will be told the names of the main witnesses in the case (prosecution & defence witnesses), together with any relevant locations. The purpose of this is to ensure that the members of the jury have no prior knowledge or connection with anyone involved in the case. If a member of the panel does have any connection the judge will usually excuse them and another juror-in-waiting will take their place (hence one of the reasons for a panel of more than twelve).  In longer and more complex cases questions can by asked of potential jurors by asking them to fill out a questionnaire. However, there is no equivalent to US-style jury selection where jurors are questioned by legal representatives before being accepted onto a jury.

Jurors will normally be expected to do jury service for two weeks but some cases last far longer than this; in these longer cases potential jurors will have been contacted in advance and asked about their availability.

When the jury box is full but before each juror takes the jury oath or affirmation, the defendant is told by the court clerk that (s)he has the right to object to any juror in this way:

“ [Defendant Name], the names that you are about to hear are the names of the jurors who are to try you. If therefore you wish to object to them or to any of them, you must do so as they come to the book to be sworn, and before they are sworn, and your objection will be heard.”

The defence and prosecution have limited grounds open to them to challenge jurors and the judge has a discretion to excuse jurors.

The most common grounds to object to a juror are that he/she knows the defendant or a witness. 

The prosecution and defence are not able to seek to manipulate the composition of a jury along race or religious lines. A juror will only be prevented from hearing a case for a good reason. Each juror then takes the oath or affirms to “faithfully try the defendant and a give a true verdict according to the evidence.”

Now that the jury are sworn the judge will give them some preliminary instructions. 

The judge will tell the jury that the evidence upon which they will decide the case is the evidence that will be presented to them in court.

As such, they should only discuss the case among themselves and not with anyone else who may give a view but will not have heard the evidence.

They should also not be influenced by any media reporting of the case and should not attempt to obtain further information about the case from anyone outside court, including using social media and the internet to contact witnesses or to otherwise conduct research.

A written notice will already have been given to the jury that undertaking research into a case, communicating with another juror about this research and disclosing details of the deliberations of the jury are criminal offences for which the penalty is imprisonment or a fine, or both, and may be a contempt of court. 

They will be told that they have a collective responsibility as jurors to ensure they all act appropriately according to their oath/affirmation.

 As such, if they have any concerns during the trial, either relating to the improper conduct of another juror (e.g. internet research) or to some other external factor (such as being approached by a third party regarding the case who attempts to influence them), they should immediately inform the usher who will notify the judge. 

The jury will be told that matters of law are for the judge alone so if any legal applications are made during the trial the jury will be asked to leave court while they are dealt with. Finally, the judge will deal with the what the estimated length of the trial is and when they are likely to retire to consider their verdict. They will be informed of the usual sitting hours (usually 10/10.30am-1pm then 2pm-4.30pm).

When these preliminaries have been dealt with, the prosecution will open its case.

The trial then starts with the prosecution opening its case to the jury. The prosecuting advocate will explain what the case is all about, i.e. what charges the defendant faces and what the case against the defendant is. 

The prosecutor will steer clear of going into a detailed explanation of the law unless it is necessary to do so to open the case clearly.  The judge will explain the law to the jury at a later stage of the trial (during the summing-up) so there is usually no need to do so at the start. By the end of the prosecution opening speech the jury should have a clear idea of the what the case is about and what the issues are that they will have to focus on. 

Whilst opening the case the prosecutor will usually hand to the jury a copy of the indictment which is the document containing the charges (called ‘counts’) faced by the defendant.

Immediately after the prosecution opening speech the judge may invite the defence representative to address the jury briefly on what the issues in the case are. The purpose of this is to help the jury understand the case and focus on those matters which are in dispute. For example, in an assault case the defence might be one of mistaken identity or it might be self-defence, so identifying the issue at the outset would make it clear for the jurors where they should focus their attention. Or in a theft case the defence might be a denial of taking the item, or it might be that the defendant accepts taking it but asserts the item was given to him. It obviously helps the jury to know exactly what the issues are from the outset.  Sometimes there will be no need for such an initial statement from the defence if the prosecutor has made it clear what the issues are or it is otherwise apparent. The final decision rests with the judge.

Once the issues have been clearly set out to the jury the judge can further assist by informing them of relevant matters of law.

For example, in an eye-witness identification case the judge could inform the jury of certain matters they should focus on to enable them to assess the reliability of an identification, such as the period of time over which the observation took place, the distance involved, the lighting conditions and the existence of any obstructions (in the case of R v Turnbull [1977] QB 224 the Court of Appeal set out the factors that need to be considered in a case based on visual identification).

If the judge decides that the defence should make an initial statement to the jury but the defence declines the invitation (which it is entitled to do), the judge may direct that the jury are given a copy of the defendant’s Defence Statement. 

The Defence Statement is a mandatory document in the Crown Court which the defendant will have served on the prosecution and the court at an earlier stage in the proceedings; it includes the general nature of the defence as well as those parts of the prosecution case the defendant takes issue with and why. If the jury are to be shown the Defence Statement to help them identify the real issues in the case, the Defence Statement can be edited before it is shown to them to remove any irrelevant or inadmissible material.

Once the prosecution has opened the case it has to prove it with evidence.  Evidence can be adduced in court in a number of ways: first, by calling witnesses; secondly, by reading the statements of witnesses (usually where the other side agree with the contents of the statement); thirdly, by agreeing the evidence with the other side and writing that evidence down as an agreed fact.

A prosecution witness will usually only be called to give evidence where the defendant disputes the version of events they have set out in their written witness statement. For example, the witness may have given a statement to the police that the defendant punched him in the face. 

The defendant may deny that this ever happened. In these circumstances there is a clear dispute.  The prosecution will therefore have to call the witness. The witness will give his version of events and then the defence will cross-examine the witness putting their version of events to him.

Where there is no dispute about the contents of a witness’s statement there is no need to call the witness to court to give evidence. After all, it would be a complete waste of time and money to bring a witness to court to say something that everyone agreed with. 

So where the prosecution and the defence agree with the contents of a witness statement, that statement can simply be read out to the court.  Alternatively, the contents of that witness statement can simply be written down as an agreed fact (a written admission) which is read out and handed into the court during the trial.

An example of the type of prosecution evidence that is often agreed is medical evidence and evidence from police officers regarding a defendant’s arrest. For example, if the allegation was that the defendant had punched the victim in the face and broken his nose, there would be a statement from a doctor at the hospital to confirm the defendant attended A&E and had a broken nose. There would probably be no dispute about this (if the dispute simply concerned how the injury occurred), so in that event the defence would agree this evidence and the statement could simply be read out by the prosecution in court or the contents could be summarised in a document and given to the jury as agreed facts.

When a witness is called to give evidence, he will be asked to give his account of what happened.  This is known as his ‘evidence in chief’.  It is the witness’s opportunity to tell the court what happened.

A witness will start by entering the witness box and taking the oath or affirmation, i.e. “I swear by almighty God/I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  He will either read this or the court usher will take the witness through it.  A witness will usually stand whilst giving evidence but the judge will allow them to sit down if there’s a good reason to do so.

Once they have taken the oath or affirmed, the legal representative for the prosecution will then ask the witness for their name.  A witness will not be asked to reveal his home address unless it is relevant to the case.  From this point on the witness will be taken through his account of what happened.

Witnesses (other than defendants) cannot sit in court before they are called to give their evidence.  The exception to this rule is expert witnesses who can listen to the evidence before they are called upon to give their expert opinion.   When they have finished giving evidence witnesses can sit in the public galley and watch the rest of the case should they choose to do so.  Prosecution witnesses have a private waiting room at court which they can use before giving evidence.  

What is important during evidence in chief is that the jury hears the witness’s account, not an account that is moulded by the prosecution advocate who is asking the witness questions (conducting the examination-in-chief).  For this reason the prosecution cannot ‘lead’ a witness through his evidence, i.e. the prosecution cannot ask questions constructed in such a way as to suggest the answer they want.  

A witness is not allowed to rely on his statement to guide him through his evidence. However, if a witness has difficulty remembering what happened, the prosecution can ask the judge for permission (permission is called ‘leave’ in the criminal courts) to allow the witness to refresh his memory from his witness statement. 

The test the judge applies in deciding whether to allow this is whether the witness’s memory was ‘significantly better’ when he made his statement than it is now.

A number of witnesses will find the process of giving evidence a difficult experience. Witnesses may be fearful for a number of reasons. An obvious example of a category of witnesses who may find the process of giving evidence in court difficult are child witnesses. For this reason, there are a number of ‘special measures’ which the court can grant to help witnesses give evidence. Many such measures, such as the use of screens (so that the witness and defendant do not see each other) and live video link (where the witness can give evidence from a remote location and they appear on a TV monitor in court) are used regularly and the judge will direct the jury not to hold the fact that special measures have been used against the defendant..

Other special measures which may be available include pre-recorded evidence in chief, pre-recorded cross-examination, clearing the public gallery so that the court sits in private, use of an intermediary to assist the witness giving evidence and other aids to communication.

Once the prosecution witness has finished giving his account (i.e. completed his evidence in chief) the prosecution advocate will sit down and the defence advocate will stand up to cross-examine the witness. 

The first aim of cross-examination of a prosecution witness is to test that witness’s evidence by putting the defendant’s version of events to him or her. For example, if the prosecution witness has given evidence in chief that the defendant punched him in the face but the defendant denies this ever happened, the defence advocate will put the defendant’s version to the witness. This gives the prosecution witness the opportunity to respond to the defendant’s version of events and either agree or disagree with it. It also means that, by the end of the cross-examination, it should be clear what the defendant’s case is.

“The defence will also want to demonstrate through cross-examination that the evidence given by the prosecution witness cannot be relied upon”

The defence will also want to demonstrate through cross-examination that the evidence given by the prosecution witness cannot be relied upon. 

For example, if a prosecution witness has given a different version of events previously to the version given in evidence to the court, their previous inconsistent statement can be put to them. 

Similarly, the defence are entitled to focus on the detail of the witness’s evidence to highlight inconsistencies and other matters; the defence can later argue in their closing speech that such inconsistencies etc. reveal the account given is not reliable.

It is no part of the cross-examination process to seek to bully or harass a witness and a judge would stop an advocate who engaged in such behaviour. In any event, shouting at a witness is not effective advocacy; it is far more likely to lose an advocate any sympathy for his or her client than gain it. The most effective cross-examinations are controlled and methodical; they are based on a careful analysis of the case and will often expose weaknesses in the evidence of a witness.

In cases involving allegations of a sexual nature, complainants cannot be asked questions about their sexual history except with the leave (permission) of the court. 

There are also restrictions preventing litigants in person conducting a cross-examination in some cases.

Questions put in cross-examination must be relevant to the issues in the defendant’s case.

If you are representing yourself (in which case you are known as a litigant in person or defendant in person) there are some restrictions on who you can cross-examine.

If you are charged with a sexual offence you are not entitled to cross-examine the complainant yourself (i.e. you cannot cross-examine the person who has made the allegation against you). 

You are also not entitled to cross-examine in person a child witness in respect of certain offences.  The court can also decide to prohibit a defendant in person from conducting a cross-examination. 

Where defendants in person are not entitled to conduct their own cross-examination, they must find a legal representative to conduct the cross-examination on their own behalf; alternatively, the court will appoint a legal representative to do the cross-examination for them where it considers it is in the interests of justice to do so.

When cross-examination has concluded, the prosecution are entitled to re-examine the witness.  Re-examination can only be used to ask further questions about matters arising out of cross-examination; as such, it is usually used to clarify any matters the defendant cross-examined the witness about.

The final piece of evidence the prosecution will adduce is the defendant’s Record of Interview. Where the defendant has been interviewed by the police at a police station, this will have been audio recorded. The record of interview is generally produced as a written summary of the interview. It is rare for it to be a verbatim account of everything a defendant has said, although usually some of the answers are set out fully to avoid ambiguity. Where there is a good reason to do so, the actual interview audio recording may be played to the court.

The record of interview will be an agreed document between the prosecution and the defence (i.e. they will have edited it together before the trial and agreed a final version to give to the judge and the jury). The prosecution will hand the agreed copy of the interview to the jury and may read it out. 

When all the evidence has been adduced in support of the prosecution case the prosecution advocate will close the case by saying “that is the case for the prosecution” or “that is the case for the Crown.” This indicates that the prosecution has now presented all its evidence. 

Closing the case should not be confused with the closing speech. A closing speech comes right at the end of the trial after the defence case.

The Defence Case 

At the end of the prosecution case the defence may make an application to the judge called a ‘submission of no case to answer’.  

This is often referred to by lawyers as a ‘half- time submission’ with reference to the fact that it occurs at the midway point of the trial (i.e. the end of the prosecution case and before the start of the defence case).

The Criminal Procedure Rules Part 25.9(2)(e) govern this procedure in the Crown Court (see Further Information section below) as follows: 

… at the end of the prosecution evidence, on the defendant’s application or on its own initiative, the court— (i) may direct the jury … to acquit on the ground that the prosecution evidence is insufficient for any reasonable court properly to convict, but (ii) must not do so unless the prosecutor has had an opportunity to make representations.

The test to be applied means that where the prosecution case is weak, either because there is no evidence to prove it or, although there is some evidence, that evidence is insufficient to support a conviction, the judge may direct the jury to find the defendant not guilty. This may happen, for example, because the evidence given by a prosecution witness was so inconsistent as to be incapable of being relied upon, or because a prosecution witness’s evidence was vague or otherwise unconvincing. A more extreme example would be where a prosecution witness accepted lying to the court on an important issue, thus fatally weakening the prosecution case. The essence of the submission is that the evidence is so weak that it would be unsafe even leaving the case to the jury.

The defence representative will make the submission to the judge in the absence of the jury and the prosecution representative will respond. If the application succeeds (i.e. the judge agrees that there is no case to answer), the jury will return and be instructed by the judge to return a verdict of not guilty. A formal Not Guilty verdict will be recorded and, provided the defendant faces no other charges before the court, he will be discharged and free to leave (although if he was in custody he will have to return to the cells to collect any belongings and deal with some administration before release).

If the submission of no case to answer does not succeed (i.e. the judge thinks there is a case to answer) then the jury will return to court and the defence case will start. The jury will not be informed about the unsuccessful submission.

It is now time for the defendant to present his case to the court. The defendant will have to decide whether he wishes to give evidence. The decision is an important one. If he chooses to give evidence he will take the oath/affirm in exactly the same way as the prosecution witnesses did, “that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  He will be taken through his account by his legal representative if he has one (his evidence-in-chief) and he will then be cross-examined by the prosecution representative. 

If there is more than one defendant in the trial he can also be cross-examined by the legal representatives for each of those defendants before he is cross-examined by the prosecution.

If he chooses not to give evidence he will not give evidence in chief and cannot be cross-examined by the prosecution. Not being cross-examined may be an advantage on the one hand because the prosecution representative is denied the opportunity to put directly to the defendant any matters to test his reliability. It is worth bearing in mind that the defendant is perfectly entitled not to give evidence. After all, the burden of proof is on the prosecution; the defendant is within his rights to remain silent and let the prosecution prove its case if it has one. However, on the other hand the problem for the defendant is that in most cases if he does not give evidence the jury will be told by the judge that they are entitled to draw an adverse inference against him for this failure, i.e. it can be held against him in deciding if he is guilty of the offence, although it cannot be the only or main reason for finding him guilty. It is this adverse inference which the defendant will be warned about. The same applies if he gives evidence but chooses not to answer questions.

The Criminal Procedure Rules, Part 25.9(2)(f) sets out the procedure in this way:

… at the end of the prosecution evidence, the court must ask whether the defendant intends to give evidence in person and, if the answer is ‘no’, then the court must satisfy itself that there has been explained to the defendant, in terms the defendant can understand (with help, if necessary)— (i) the right to give evidence in person, and (ii) that if the defendant does not give evidence in person, or refuses to answer a question while giving evidence, the court may draw such inferences as seem proper.

This means that after the close of the prosecution case and before the start of the defence case, the judge will inform the defendant (or expect his legal representative to confirm the defendant has been advised) that the time has been reached at which the defendant can give evidence, but if he chooses not to do so (or gives evidence but refuses to answer a relevant question) an adverse inference can be drawn from his failure to do so.

You can read more about the Criminal Procedure Rules in the Further Information section below. You can also read about section 35 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which contains this adverse inference rule.

At the start of the defence case the defence representative (or the defendant if he is unrepresented) may address the jury by summarising what the defendant’s case is. The right to make an opening speech exists only where the defendant intends to call at least one defence witness in person (other than the defendant himself). 

Defence opening speeches are relatively rare and are generally reserved for long and complex cases where it would assist the jury to be given some advance detail of the defence case.

Assuming the defendant decides to give evidence he will take the oath/affirm and give his account. It is now the defendant’s opportunity to explain to the court his side of the story. This works in exactly the same way as with prosecution witnesses. He gives his evidence in chief and is then cross-examined by the prosecution advocate. If there is another defendant in the case (a co-defendant) the co-defendant’s legal representative may cross-examine, should he wish to do so, before the prosecution.

Prosecution cross-examination of a defendant in a criminal trial serves the same purpose as cross-examination by the defence of a prosecution witness, namely to test the defendant’s evidence by putting the prosecution’s case to him as well as any matters that demonstrate unreliability.

The prosecutor is likely to analyse closely the defendant’s case and exploit any inconsistencies in it, including any differences between what a defendant said (if anything) when he was questioned by the police and what he is saying now in his evidence at court.  

After cross-examination, the defence representative is entitled to re-examine the defendant in relation to any matters that arise during cross-examination.

If the prosecution wish to put a defendant’s previous convictions or past misconduct to him, they must make what is known as a ‘bad character’ application. There must be a good reason for the application. Common examples are applications which rely on previous convictions which show a ‘propensity’ to commit certain types of offences, to behave dishonestly or to be untruthful, or applications seeking to adduce ‘important explanatory evidence’ such as reveals a motive for an offence. Other examples which may arise in the course of a case are where a defendant (either himself or through his legal representative) makes an attack on the character of a prosecution witness – this can result in the defendant’s own bad character being revealed, or when a defendant creates a false impression, such as by telling the court he is “peace loving” when in fact he has convictions for violence; in this situation the prosecution would apply to adduce his previous convictions to counter the false impression given. 

Most bad character applications are dealt with at the start of the trial before the case has been opened by the prosecution. The defence are also entitled to make bad character applications to rely on previous convictions or other misconduct of prosecution witnesses if they can show these are relevant in the circumstances of the case. 

After the defendant has given evidence (if he chooses to do so) he is entitled to call witnesses. 

The witnesses will be taken through their accounts in chief, after which they will be cross-examined and then, if the defence representative feels it necessary, re-examined. 

If there is another defendant in the case (a co-defendant) the co-defendant’s legal representative may cross-examine, should he wish to do so, before the prosecution. 

Just as with agreed prosecution evidence, if defence evidence is agreed by the prosecution the statement can be read out to the court or it can be placed into a document as an agreed fact (admissions).  

If a defendant is of good character (i.e. he has no previous convictions) he will often want to adduce character evidence before the court, i.e. testimonials from friends and colleagues attesting to his general honesty and trustworthiness. Often the prosecution will accept this evidence and allow it to be read to the court. Even so, for presentation purposes a defendant may wish to call one or more character witnesses because this may have more impact with the jury than simply reading out a testimonial.

When all of the evidence has been adduced for the defendant, the defence will close its case by saying “that is the case for the defence” or similar. 

In a case involving more than one defendant, each defence case is taken consecutively, so the first defendant would give evidence (if he chooses to do so) followed by calling any witnesses and then adducing any agreed evidence. He would then close his case. The second defendant would then give evidence (if he wished) followed by calling his witnesses and any other evidence. He would then close his case, and so on …

After a defendant has given evidence in chief, co-defendants are entitled to cross-examine him (should they wish to) before cross-examination by the prosecution takes place.

Before the prosecution and defence make their closing speeches to the jury, the judge and the prosecution and defence advocates will consider any matters of law that the jury will need to be directed on as part of the judge’s summing-up. The judge will invite submissions on these matters. This ensures, where possible, that the jury receive all the appropriate legal directions in terms the parties agree upon. It also assists the advocates to know precisely what legal directions are going to be given to the jury before closing speeches are made. 

There are numerous legal matters that may arise in the course of the trial. A number of examples are given in the summing-up section below.

The prosecution are entitled to make a closing speech in the Crown Court if the defendant has a legal representative, or he has called at least one factual witness other than himself, or if the court otherwise permits. 

If, therefore, a defendant had no legal representative and had just given evidence himself about what had occurred, the prosecution would not be entitled to make a closing speech unless the court gave permission.

The prosecution closing speech is about tying together the individual strands of the case and producing a convincing argument as to why the defendant is guilty of the offence he is accused of.

The defence are always entitled to make a closing speech in the Crown Court. They will, of course, be seeking to persuade the jury that the correct verdict should be one of Not Guilty.

The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove a defendant’s guilt to a high standard, namely ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ (often referred to in court as the requirement for the jury to be ‘satisfied so that you are sure’ of the defendant’s guilt). As such, it is the job of the defence to highlight those areas of evidence which reveal weaknesses in the prosecution case and demonstrate why the jury cannot be sure of guilt.

The Judge will then sum up the case before asking the Jury to retire to consider their verdict.

There are two parts to a judge’s summing-up:

  • Part 1 – legal directions;

  • Part 2 – a summary of the evidence in the case, including the prosecution and defence cases.

A judge is entitled to give the first part of the summing-up (legal directions) before closing speeches if (s)he thinks it will assist the jury. 

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