How Criminal Trials Work: The Court

1st August 2023
Category Criminal Law

In this final instalment of a three-part series on criminal trials, RMB Managing Partner CRAIG OSBORNE explains the court procedures.

Once the jury is selected the Judge may deliver some opening remarks to the jury, and both the prosecution and defence lawyers provide opening addresses. 

The prosecution then runs its case first, calling witnesses and taking them through their evidence (known as evidence in chief) The defence lawyers cross examine the witnesses.

The prosecutor is then allowed to re-examine each witness but only on matters that arose during cross examination. Once all of the prosecution witnesses have given evidence the prosecution case ends.

The defence then calls its witnesses, taking them through the evidence. Again, the prosecution can cross examine before the defence lawyer has an opportunity to re-examine each witness on matters that arose during cross examination.

Throughout this process the Judge makes decisions on various objections made by the advocates, informing jurors as to what they should and should not take into account in the context of those objections.

At the end of the evidence the lawyers for each side provide closing arguments to the jury. The Judge then gives a series of directions to the jury about how they should conduct themselves in deliberating on a verdict.

At no stage does the Judge give any indication of what he or she thinks about guilt or innocence. That is the jury’s role.  The Judge advises on the law, what it means and what standards have to be met to prove certain aspects of the law. The jury decides on questions of fact, credibility of witnesses and guilt or innocence. 

Guilt can only be found on the standard of beyond reasonable doubt. Criminal law jury decisions must be unanimous, subject to some exceptions that allow a high majority verdict, such as 11 votes to 1.

If the jury returns a verdict of not guilty the accused is acquitted and released to go home.  If the jury finds the person guilty the Judge will often adjourn the matter for a few weeks to allow the defence lawyers to prepare documents and submissions as to what the penalty should be in the circumstances.  Sometimes an accused who has been found guilty is allowed to go home on bail. 

At the sentencing hearing the defence lawyer and prosecution lawyers are able to call evidence and make submissions.  The Judge then provides the penalty in accord with important rules as to sentencing.

If you require further information, or simply need advice from experienced criminal lawyer, your first step should be to contact our office to arrange a free consultation. You can contact us by by phone or our 'Ask a Question' tool on our website.