Criminal case preparation – an introduction.

 

My criminal case is going to trial, how will it be prepared?

This is the first in a series of factsheets intended to advise you in general terms about how your criminal case will be prepared by your solicitor if you have pleaded not guilty and your case is going to trial. It is intended as a general guide only as each case is dependent on its own facts and circumstances. This factsheet is intended to deal only with the preparation of the defence case.

In general terms the preparation required for your criminal case is the same regardless of whether your trial is in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. The difference is usually in the time-scale for service of various documents either by you or by the prosecution. Where such differences exist we will specify but unless otherwise stated, please assume that the basic principles apply to both.

 

What happens after I have pleaded not guilty?

At your first hearing your solicitor will obtain the advance information in your case. This is normally: the charge sheet; the police report (which summarises the case against you); the prosecution evidence; a summary of what if anything you said in interview; any applications the prosecution wish to make on conviction, for example compensation; key witness statements; your criminal record if you have one. Normally your tape of interview will also be served with the papers. If there is CCTV, this is sometimes served with the advance information or alternatively, served at a later date

Following your first hearing your solicitor will consider the advance information in detail and should send you a copy of it. S/he should also write to you setting out amongst other things: what you have been charged with; what the law is; what the defence/s are; what your instructions were; what their advice to you was; what happened at your court hearing; what will happen next. If your solicitor hasn’t already offered you an appointment to come and see them, you should contact your solicitor and request an appointment to go through your case. Don’t be afraid to be proactive about this. Remember you instruct your solicitor not the other way round.

Having considered the evidence if there is anything relevant that hasn’t yet been served, your solicitor will write to the prosecution requesting this on your behalf.

 

Your instructions

This is one of the most important parts of your criminal case preparation. The word ‘instructions’ is often used by lawyers and what this means in practical terms is that this is what you tell your solicitor about the evidence and about what happened. Your solicitor is only as good as your instructions and it is very important that you fully co-operate with your solicitor in giving full instructions as and when asked. 

The following detailed statements are generally required from you:

1              Your proof of evidence

2              Your comments on the prosecution evidence

3              Your background statement

 

What is my proof of evidence?

This is basically your statement about what happened going through the incident/s from start to finish in chronological order including any background that is relevant to the offence. This is what your solicitor will be expecting you to say if/when you give your evidence at trial. It is important that you are happy with your proof and that it is accurate. If you want to add or amend it in any way, tell your solicitor who will do so for you.

 

Who reads my proof of evidence?

Your legal team (including if applicable your barrister). People often think that this document is served on the prosecution and/or the court, it isn’t. It is confidential between you and your legal representatives.

 

What are my comments on the prosecution case?

This is where you go through the prosecution statements with your solicitor line by line saying what you agree with and what you disagree with and any other comments you have on the evidence.

 

Why do I need to comment on the prosecution evidence?

The purpose of this document is to assist your advocate in cross-examination. It can seem like a very boring process but it is essential that your solicitor/barrister knows exactly what your case is so they can cross-examine the prosecution witnesses properly on your behalf. Putting your case to the witnesses is one of the most important parts of cross-examination. As with your proof this document is only seen by your legal team.

 

What is my back ground statement?

This is basically a summary of your life history and will normally cover such areas as your upbringing, education and qualifications, employment, family circumstances, any health problems, any substance misuse problems, and any comments you have about your criminal record if you have one. It can be embarrassing going through intensely personal information with your solicitor. Don’t let this put you off saying it, your solicitor will be well experienced in dealing with sensitive information.

 

Why do I need a background statement?

Primarily the purpose of this statement is so that if you are convicted your solicitor knows all about you and will be able to use any relevant information in mitigation on your behalf.  It will also highlight to your solicitor whether any other background information should be requested on your behalf, for example a copy of your medical notes and a report from your GP or a psychiatric report. Again this is only read by your legal team.

 

Why are these documents important?

For obvious reasons, your solicitor needs to know exactly what your case is. They will also assist your solicitor in identifying any further case preparation that is required, for example assessing if any potential witnesses need to be traced and spoken to on your behalf, and considering whether any expert evidence is needed (see below).  Solicitors act on instructions, they cannot tell you what you should say, or what you should agree with and disagree with. Despite popular belief, your solicitor cannot make up your defence for you, it must come from you.

 

What do I do with these documents?

Following your appointment with your solicitor they will be typed up into formal statements. Your solicitor should send you two copies of the document. One for you to sign and send back (please remember to do this) and the other for you to keep for your records. Nearer to your trial date you should read and re-read these documents (particularly your proof) so that you are familiar with them, it is what your advocate will be expecting you to say at trial. If at any time throughout your case preparations things come back to you about the event/s or you want to amend them in any way, again, don’t be afraid to tell your solicitor.

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