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During a court trial
How long will the trial last?
This all depends on whether the person accused of the crime pleads ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. If a guilty plea is entered then there will be no trial, maybe just a few short speeches made by the prosecution and defence.
If a defendant pleads ‘not guilty’, a date will be set for a trial although there may be a delay – and the length of the trial will depend on the complexity of the case and the number of witnesses needed. These decisions happen all the time, it is very normal for the court process to take a few days especially if the crime is serious, for example, a rape trial would usually last for at least a few days.
What happens in a trial?
A jury is ‘sworn in’ and the charges are read out to the defendant who pleads ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. Sometimes the defendant may plead guilty despite earlier having done the opposite. It is not unheard of for a defendant to wait and see if the victim and prosecution witnesses turn up on the day and then, if they do, plead guilty to reduce their sentence. Or the defendant might plead guilty to some of the charges against them.
The prosecuting barrister makes a speech to the jury outlining the case and then calls witnesses to give their evidence in person or reads out the statements of witnesses that are not disputed. Any CCTV footage or recordings of police interviews will be played to the court. If you are the victim it is quite likely that you will be the first prosecution witness, as the other prosecution witnesses will be providing supporting evidence to what you have said.
Following the prosecution case it is the turn of the defence to call any witnesses who they consider support their case. Sometimes the defendant will give evidence himself but not always. After the defence barrister has asked their questions the prosecuting barrister can cross-examine those witnesses.
After all witnesses have given their evidence the Prosecution makes a speech to the jury summarising the main points in their case, followed by the defence who do the same. The judge then sums up for the jury, the key evidence and advises them on the law and the weight they should attach to particular aspects of the evidence. The jury then retire and consider whether the defendant is guilty or not of the various charges against him.
In the event of being found not guilty on all charges the defendant is released without any further action. If he is found guilty on any charge the judge will then pass a sentence, although this may be delayed pending the preparation of reports about his character or circumstances.
What happens if I have to give evidence?
Most of the time, witnesses will give their evidence in court, however in exceptional circumstances, some vulnerable witnesses may give their evidence from an alternative location via video link.
The usual way of giving evidence is to stand in the witness box in full view of the court, take an oath (or ‘affirmation’) that you are telling the truth and answer questions.
Witnesses will then be cross-examined by either barrister on what they have said. The court will then have to decide whether or not that person committed the crime they are accused of.
If you are feeling worried or vulnerable about confronting the defendant the court can be asked to consider allowing ‘special measures’ to be used to reduce that anxiety. That might include giving your evidence from behind a screen so that the defendant or the public can’t see you or from another room via a video link. You would be seen on a screen in the courtroom by the parties concerned and will see on a screen in the room where you are the face of the person asking you questions. If you are behind a screen it is still important that the barristers, judge and jury see you so that they can weigh up the truthfulness of the evidence that you are giving. Though you can see the Barristers and Judge and they, the Defendant and Jury can see you. You will not be able to see the Defendant.
It’s no surprise that giving evidence can be a difficult experience for anyone. You may be asked to talk publicly about unpleasant, upsetting or personal events – things you might not even feel comfortable saying to a friend or family member. If the questioning is too aggressive or inappropriate, the trial judge or magistrate can intervene to stop it.
What kind of sentence could an offender receive?Next section: Sentencing
Last modified 14th October 2019
This is a place for you to explore. You can find out who's who in court, test out the extra help you can get and see what court looks like.
Do you want extra help in court?
For some people the process of giving evidence in court can be very difficult. Children under 17, victims of sexual offences and people with communication difficulties are some examples of people who may need special help.