What is A Crown Court Trial Like? Answer 4:
For most people the thought of having a crown court trial strikes fear into their hearts, especially if this is a new and unfamiliar experience. What then does it mean in practical terms to have your case go to trial and what can you expect of the process?
There is often a long gap between the day you enter your not guilty plea and the first day of your trial. This is to allow for both the prosecution and defence to get ready for trial. One of the things your Tucker's solicitor will do is to take a fairly lengthy statement from you which includes your account of what happened concerning the events that have brought you to court. For example if the charges related to a fight and you say you were acting to stop someone attacking you (self-defence) this will be set out in your statement called a 'proof of evidence'. The prosecution does not ordinary get to see the content of your proof of evidence but what is in the document will form the basis of your defence statement which the court will expect your Tucker's solicitor to serve on the prosecution and the court. This is something that will be explained to you as time goes on.
When the first day of trial comes, the judge will ask for a jury to be empanelled. This is the selection process by which twelve members of the public will be selected to hear the facts of your case and decide whether you are guilty or not guilty. Once selected the jury members are individually sworn in and swear (or promise) to 'faithfully try you' and 'to return a true verdict according to the evidence'. These days there are only limited reasons to object to individuals who are selected to form the jury but if, for example, you were to recognise one of the jury members as someone you know or have had dealings with in the past it is essential to bring this to the attention of your lawyer in court. Sometimes the prosecution and defence will agree in advance with the judge that certain types of person should be excluded from hearing the case - for example it may not be appropriate for a police officer to sit on a case which involves an allegation of police misconduct. Again, this is something your lawyer will also discuss with you at court.
Once the jury have been sworn they are put 'in charge' of your case and the court clerk will read out to the jury the charges you face. Following this the lawyer for the prosecution will open the case to the jury. This is an opening speech to the jury explaining why the prosecution say you are guilty. However the prosecution do have a duty to remain impartial and fair and so your Tucker's lawyer will be on the look out for any time when the prosecutor oversteps the mark. This too will be the case throughout the trial and your Tucker's lawyer can raise with the judge any issues of unfairness in the absence of the jury.
Once the case has been opened each prosecution witness is called in turn. The witness gives their 'evidence in chief' which is when the prosecutor asks questions, then the witness if appropriate will be cross-examined by your Tucker's lawyer and any other lawyer for other defendants in the case. The witness will then be re-examined by the prosecution. Sometimes the judge will ask a question too. Please note that although it is often possible to significantly undermine a prosecution witnesse's testimony by asking questions in cross-examination, it is rarely like it is on TV when the witness crumbles into a heap under questioning - occasionally though this does actually happen!
As an aside where there is no dispute as to the content of a witnesse's statement, the evidence will be read to the jury and therefore no questions will be asked of that witness.
After all of the prosecution evidence has been heard the prosecution will close their case. Occasionally in a case it is possible to ask the Judge to throw the case out on the basis that the evidence is insufficient or has been significantly weakened - this is called a submission of 'no case to answer'. If successful the jury will be directed to return a verdict of not guilty and that could be the end of the case against you unless there are other charges on which a submission is not successful.
If there is not a submission of 'no case' or some charges remain after a successful submission on one of the charges, the trial then continues and the spotlight turns onto the defence evidence. If giving evidence you will most likely go first before any of your defence witnesses. The same rules apply as set out above, save that your Tucker's lawyer will ask questions of you first, then other defence lawyers and the prosecution will have a chance to cross-examine you. Your Tucker's lawyer will then mop up with any further questions of you.
Following this, if you have any witnesses who support your case it will be their turn to give evidence about what happened. Sometimes though a defence witness will be called to give evidence solely about your character which means they speak about the fact that you are a good person and in their opinion are unlikely to have committed the offence.
Once all the defence witnesses have given their evidence your Tucker's lawyer will close the case for the defence. This triggers a discussion with the judge about what the judge is going to say to the jury in closing (called a 'summing up'). The judge has responsibility for giving the jury instructions on the law. However the jury decide the facts of the case.
However before the judge sums the case up the prosecutor will make a speech to the jury urging them to return a verdict of guilty. After this your Tucker's lawyer will also make a speech to the jury arguing why they should find you not guilty. The jury will then retire to decide the verdict. Depending on how complex the trial has been the jury maybe sometime in making their decision (this sometimes can range from ten minutes to serval weeks). Having said that this is not an open-ended process and the the judge will keep an eye on the time. The jury is asked to decide their verdict 'unanimously' which means they all must agree. However if they cannot all agree there may come a time when the judge will accept a majority verdict. Again this is something your Tucker's lawyer will talk to you about at court.
Whilst the jury is deliberation you will be able to use the court facilities but will not be able to leave the building unless the judge consents (normally a defendant will be allowed to leave the building at lunchtime).
Once the jury has reached it's verdict all parties in the case will be called back into court and you will be asked to stand whilst the fore-person delivers the verdict. Should the verdict be not guilty you will be free to go. Should the verdict be guilty, the court will decide what happens next - this is something I will cover in my next blog post.
Rest assured that throughout the trial your Tucker's lawyer, or independent barrister instructed by Tuckers will guide your throughout this process and will do their best to persuade the jury to find you not guilty.
Adrian Rohard is a Partner and Higher Courts' Advocate for Tuckers Kent Branch.