What To Expect During A Criminal Trial

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What To Expect During A Criminal Trial

A lot of people feel very passionately about crime. Judges and magistrates of course play a vital role in the criminal justice system when it comes to sentencing.

To go through the experience of a criminal law trial can be a very tough and challenging experience. Knowing what to expect from a criminal trial can help those who will go through one feel more comfortable and at ease about the whole process by having some notion about what to expect.

If you would like to know more about what to expect during a criminal trial, particularly in the Crown Court then please keep reading for more information.


What to Expect During a Criminal Trial

At the start of the trial, the judge will ask the defendant if they are ready for the trial. Should they be ready then the court will select a jury from the panel assembled at court.


The People in the Courtroom

Expect to see a range of different people in the courtroom, all with different roles. To understand more about the different people involved in a court trial read on for the main examples of the roles you are likely to see.


The Judge

The judge sits at the front of the court and controls proceedings and the trial. A High Court Judge will be referred to as ‘my lord’.  The remains judges in the Crown Court will be called ‘your honour’


The Defendant

The defendant will sit in the dock and be accompanied by a dock officer.


The Court Clerk

The court clerk sits at the front of the court, directly below the judge and helps to coordinate the court proceedings.


Court Usher

  • prepare the courtroom
  • greet people entering court
  • check that witnesses, defendants and lawyers are present
  • call defendants and witnesses into court
  • label evidence and pass it to the judge and jury
  • input data to the computer system, handle post, filing and photocopying

Sworn ushers

If you work as a sworn usher in a crown court, you'll also:

  • stop unauthorised people from talking to the jury
  • take the jury to and from the courtroom
  • be on duty outside the jury room
  • take messages between the jury and the judge
  • organise hotels if people on the jury need to stay overnight



Barristers wear black robes and wigs. Prosecution barristers present the evidence against the defendant to the court, whilst defence barristers present the case for the defendant and challenge the prosecutor's evidence.



Solicitors if attending court will sit behind the instructed barrister and take notes and assist counsel generally. They will have previously instructed the counsel before the case has come to court.



Many witnesses can be called during a case. Witnesses may include forensic scientists, police officers, medical experts, and eyewitnesses among others. Some evidence is very detailed and specialised so witnesses are there to listen carefully to all the evidence and pay attention to any exhibits as this will be the basis on which a verdict is decided.


Court Reporters

The Crown Court is a court of record. All proceedings are accurately recorded by a digital recording system operated by the court clerk, or by shorthand writers. These people will usually sit beside the court clerk and record everything that is said in court - this then may be used if the case goes to appeal.


When a Defendant Pleads Guilty

When the person accused of an offence admits they did the offence, then the sentencing hearing will be held either immediately or at a later date if reports are needed.

Sometimes a defendant may admit to part of what they are being accused of, the court then may have to decide whether to sentence them based on what they admit or based on what the prosecution alleges. There may have to be a separate court hearing called a Newton hearing to decide the basis on which to sentence.

In other cases, the prosecution and the court may agree to accept a guilty plea for a lesser charge - for example careless driving rather than dangerous driving.

If the courts find the defendant guilty of one or more charges made against them, the next step will be the sentencing hearing. The sentencing hearing will have the judge or magistrates deciding what sentence should be given to the offender, this can be the same day but can also be scheduled for a later date.


When a Defendant Is Not Guilty

If the magistrates and district judge and jury are not sure that the defendant is guilty then they must find the defendant not guilty, which will be the end of the case.

In some Crown Court cases, a jury will be unable to reach a majority agreement decision on the verdict. This is what is called a ‘hung jury’. In such cases of a hung jury, the judge will discharge the jury and the prosecution may ask for a re-trial at a future date. If they decide not to proceed then the charges are dropped against the defendant which will mark the end of the case.



Both magistrates and judges have the power to imprison those convicted of a crime if the offence is serious enough. Imprisonment is not the only solution, a judge or magistrate can order a community punishment, or put an individual under some sort of control order where their movements or activities are restricted.

Judges will also have a mind as to how a particular sentence may reduce the chances of an individual re-offending.  Sentence is a combination of punishment, rehabilitation and deterrent.


Bell Lamb & Joynson

Here at Bell Lamb & Joynson, we have a team of criminal law solicitors that can be with you every step of the way when it comes to helping you or someone you know through a criminal trial.

We are one of the oldest and therefore, most experienced criminal defence solicitors in the North West of England, we have successes in helping our clients reach the most positive outcomes. Get in contact with us and we will be happy to help you too.