Crown Court Solicitors

The Crown Court usually deal with the more serious criminal cases. The first hearing at Crown Court after the case has been sent by the Magistrates is the Plea and Case Management Hearing (PCMH).

Plea and Case Management Hearings

A PCMH takes place in every case at the Crown Court, and its purpose is to ensure that all necessary steps have been taken in preparation for trial and sufficient information has been provided for a trial date to be arranged.

At this hearing the judge plays a managerial role with a view to progressing the case.

At this hearing, each defendant is required to enter a plea.

The defendant may use the PCMH to request an advance indication of sentence from the Judge, this is called a Goodyear Indication (see below).

Goodyear Indication

In Crown Court cases, the defence can request an indication from the judge of the likely maximum sentence that would be imposed should the defendant decide to plead guilty.

This request can be made at any stage of the proceedings, including at trial, although it is most likely to be made at the plea and case management hearing.

An indication can only be sought by the defence and should not normally be given until the basis of the guilty plea has been agreed with the prosecution.

When giving an advance sentence indication, the judge is confined to the maximum sentence that he/she could impose if the guilty plea were actually entered at that stage of proceedings.

This means that the indicated sentence may include a reduction for pleading guilty.

The level of reduction will depend on the stage of proceedings that was reached before the indication was sought.

The judge may decline to give an advance indication of sentence but, once given, the court is bound not to exceed the sentence previously indicated. The defendant is then given a “reasonable opportunity” to decide whether to plead guilty or continue with proceedings on the basis of a not guilty plea, in which case the indication will cease to have effect.

If the defendant pleads Guilty the Court can remand him/her into prison immediately should the Judge feel that a custodial sentence is likely.

In this case the defendant’s Barrister will be given an opportunity to address the Judge and present a case for mitigation in order to persuade the Judge to deal with the defendant leniently.

However, an adjournment may be requested if the Judge believes a Pre-Sentence Report is required before the defendant is sentenced.

The Pre-Sentence Report is based on an interview which a Probation Officer conducts with the defendant which usually takes place within a few weeks of the PCMH.

A Pre-Sentence Report is extremely beneficial for first time offenders or defendants with few previous convictions but it can also be helpful for defendants facing lengthy custodial sentences and in that case a report can be requested by the defendant’s Barrister.

The Pre-Sentence Report will contain the Probation Officer’s recommendation for sentence, which will be in line with the Sentencing Guidelines.

However the report gives the defendant an opportunity to explain to the Probation Officer why he/she committed the crime, how they feel about the crime and also gives an opportunity for the defendant to express their regret and remorse at committing the crime.

These combined factors can make the difference in borderline custodial cases and in cases where the defendant is facing a lengthy sentence and so it is extremely important for the defendant to have a positive interview with the Probation Officer which will in turn produce a positive Pre-Sentence Report.

If the defendant pleads Not Guilty, then the prosecution and defence are expected to inform the court of a number of relevant matters, including the factual and legal issues in the case, the number of witnesses and the order in which prosecution witnesses will be called and so forth.

The court must be informed of the estimated length of the trial and the availability of witnesses and counsel.

These matters are dealt with in a questionnaire, which must be completed by the advocate for each party.

In the event of a Not Guilty Plea, the Judge will give directions with a view to dealing with the case justly and bringing it to trial quickly and efficiently and will set dates for service of papers for both the Defence and Prosecution to comply with.

The trial date will usually be fixed at the PCMH, although some cases will not be given a fixed date immediately and can be allocated a timeframe of a week or two in which they may take place depending on courtroom availability. These cases are referred to as being in the Warned List.

Generally speaking, cases where the defendant is remanded and sex cases involving vulnerable prosecution witnesses take priority in the Crown Court and will normally be given earlier trial dates than other cases.

Crown Court Trial Procedure
The trial will ordinarily progress as follows:

  • Counsel for the prosecution opens his case
  • Witnesses for the prosecution
    • Examination in Chief by Prosecution Counsel
    • Cross-Examination by Defence Counsel
  • Counsel for the defence may open his case
  • Witnesses for the defence
    • Examination in Chief by Defence Counsel
    • Cross-Examination by Prosecution Counsel
  • Counsel for the prosecution sums up his case
  • Counsel for the defence sums up his case
  • Summing Up to the jury by the Judge
  • Jury retires and returns with its verdict
The Prosecution open their case by making a speech to the Jury. In general terms the opening speech sets out: the burden and standard of proof and a summary of what their case against you is in terms of the evidence.

At the close of the Prosecution case, the Defence has an opportunity to make a submission to the Judge (in the absence of the jury) that there is no evidence upon which, a reasonable jury could convict the defendant.

This is called a submission of ‘No Case to Answer’.

If, after hearing submissions from both counsel, the Judge agrees with the Defence submission, he/she will stop the case by directing the Jury to acquit the Defendant.

If the judge does not accept the defence submission, proceedings progress to the defence case.

What is the Burden of Proof?
The law in this country places the burden to prove the case solely on the Prosecution.

This essentially means that the defendant is not required to prove his/her innocence but it is the job of the Prosecution to prove that he/she is guilty of the alleged crime.

You have probably heard of the expression ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

Many defendants are understandably sceptical of this but this is something that juries take very seriously when considering their verdict.

This doesn’t mean that the prosecution must prove every minute detail against you.

What they must do however is prove the essential elements of the offence against you.

What is the Standard of Proof?
The term ‘standard of proof’ refers to the level at which the Prosecution must prove their case.

The standard of proof in this country is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ which means that the Prosecution must convince the Jury of the Defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

In practice this means that the Jury must be sure and 100% convinced that you are guilty.

If the Jury is not sure and hold any reasonable doubts over the Prosecution case and the guilt of the Defendant they must find the defendant ‘Not Guilty’.

When a witness is called to give evidence, he/she will be questioned first by the advocate representing the party calling them.

The aim of this is to extract from the witness all the facts supporting that party’s case that are within the personal knowledge of that witness.

When giving evidence, witnesses may refresh their memory from documents provided certain conditions are met.

Leading questions‘ (i.e. questions which invite a witness to give a particular response) should generally not be asked during examination-in-chief.

All the evidence on which the prosecution wishes to rely must be called before the close of the prosecution case, as it will only be in exceptional circumstances that the prosecution may be allowed subsequently to call evidence.

After a witness has given evidence-in-chief, he/she may be cross-examined on behalf of the other parties, including any co-accused.

If a witness has not said anything which damages the prosecution case, or with which the defence disagree, there may be no need to cross-examine the witness at all.

If there are no questions in cross-examination, the witness’s account is generally taken as unchallenged, and accepted.

After cross-examination, the party that called the witness may re-examine him/her, but must limit questions to clarify matters covered during cross-examination.

Leading questions may not be asked. Re-examination will often be tactically disadvantageous and is not conducted routinely.

The court may recall a witness for further examination or cross-examination.

In such circumstances, the parties have a right to cross-examine or re-examine.

After hearing all the evidence from both the Defence and Prosecution the Judge will then give the jury any relevant directions on the law and will also sum up the evidence for the jury.

The Judge is the Judge of Law and will tell the Jury which law applies in your case and how they should treat and approach that law.

The Judge can’t tell the Jury which witnesses they should or shouldn’t believe or indicate to them whether you should be found guilty, that is entirely a matter for the jury.

Examples of directions that the Judge could give are:

  • A direction about the burden and standard of proof
  • A direction about how the jury should treat your good character
  • A direction about the Jury should treat your bad character
  • A direction about how the jury should treat your no comment interview

Before the jury retires the Judge will tell them the following:

  • That they must decide the case on the evidence and arguments that they have seen and heard in court and not on anything they have seen or heard or may see or hear outside the court.
  • That the evidence has been completed and it would be wrong for any juror to seek or receive further evidence or information of any sort about the case i.e. conduct their own internet research.
  • That they must not talk to anyone about the case save to other members of the jury and then only when they are [all] deliberating in the jury room; and that they must not allow anyone to talk to them about the case unless that person is a juror and he or she is in the jury room deliberating about the case.
  • That when they leave the court they should try to set aside the case they are trying on one side until they return to court and retire to their jury room to continue the process of deliberating about their verdict or verdicts.
The jury will retire to reach their verdict. They will be asked to elect a foreman who will be the person who will announce their verdict in open court and the person who chairs their deliberations.

Do all 12 members of the Jury have to agree?
Initially the Jury are required to give a unanimous verdict. This is a verdict on which all 12 Jury members agree on.

However should the Jury be unable to deliver a unanimous verdict the Judge can give a majority direction.

The Judge must give the jury a minimum of two hours to reach a unanimous verdict before giving them a majority direction.

At the end of the two-hour period it is a matter for the Judge when he/she thinks it is appropriate to give the jury the majority direction providing he/she is satisfied that the jury is unlikely to reach a unanimous verdict given more time to consider their deliberations.

What is a Majority Direction?
This means that ten or more members of the jury must agree on a verdict.

If the Jury fails to reach a verdict (usually called a ‘hung jury’), a decision needs to be taken about seeking a retrial.

There is a presumption that the Prosecution will seek a re-trial where a jury fails to agree on a verdict at the first trial.

The Prosecution would have to consider whether there is still a realistic prospect of conviction, whether any material changes occurred during the course of the first trial and whether witnesses were willing, and available, to give evidence again.

The prosecution will usually seek an adjournment to allow consideration of the question of a retrial.

Where two juries fail to reach a verdict, the presumption is that the prosecution will not seek a third trial.