If you’re involved in a Criminal case in Court and you’ve chosen to challenge or contest the charges against you in a trial, the first stage of the trial will involve the start of the Prosecution’s case & the Examination of the Prosecution’s witness(es) – the main purpose for this is for the Prosecution to produce and present the evidence that they feel supports and proves the allegations made against you and that show how you’ve committed the offence.
At the trial, the charge is read and explained to you before the Judge will ask you whether you want to plead guilty or claim trial to the proceeded charges. If you want to claim trial, the Prosecution will start presenting their case first. The Prosecution can begin with an outline of its case and what it expects to establish through the trial.
The examination of each Prosecution witness consists of 3 stages:
- Examination-in-Chief where the Prosecuting Officer will question their own Prosecution Witnesses so that the witnesses can give their oral evidence regarding the case and the facts
- Cross-Examination where you or your Defence Lawyer will question the Prosecution Witnesses to challenge their evidence; and
- Re-Examination where the Prosecuting Officer will question their Prosecution Witnesses to clarify any issues that may have been brought up during the Cross-Examination. When a witness is on the stand, the rest of the witnesses must remain outside the courtroom. You should ensure that your witnesses are outside the courtroom as well.
Generally speaking, your objective and your Defence Lawyer’s objective at this stage will be to ask questions during Cross-Examination to get answers from the Prosecution’s witnesses to show that their evidence against you is unreliable and should not be given weight by the Judge.
After the Prosecution has called all their witnesses, the Court will need to decide if the Prosecution has presented a sufficient case such that you must answer the charge. You can make a submission of no case to answer if you feel there is insufficient evidence to support the Prosecution’s case.
If there is enough evidence to support the Prosecution’s case, the Court will ask you to present your defence, and you’ll be given two options by the Judge: (i) you can personally testify and give evidence from the witness stand; or (ii) you can remain silent and not give evidence in your own defence.
If you choose to remain silent, the Court can draw all reasonable inferences, including those that are not favourable to you, and the Court can also take your silence into account when deciding whether you’re guilty or not. For example, the Court can infer that you have chosen to remain silent because you do not have any good explanation or response to the allegations made against you.
If the Court has decided that there is some evidence that satisfies each and every element of the charges and that this evidence is not inherently incredible – meaning that the evidence is not blatantly farfetched or impossible to believe – then you’ll be required by law to answer and give your response and explanation to the charge.
You have 2 choices at that point –
- First, if you choose to give evidence then you must testify and speak in person from the witness box and be prepared to be cross-examined by the Prosecution and also possibly asked questions by the Judge.
- Second, if you choose not to give evidence in the witness box i.e. you choose to remain silent, then the Court in deciding whether you’re guilty or not is allowed to draw such inferences from your refusal to give evidence, including inferences that can be harmful to your credibility and defence.
Whether you choose to give evidence or you choose to remain silent, you can always still call on other witnesses to give evidence to support your case.
To recap, here’s a summary of what you should remember about asking questions and conducting the cross-examination of the Prosecution Witnesses:
- It’s important that all the key evidence you want the Judge to review is presented during your case
- You must focus your effort on telling the Judge what happened in relation to the key incidents in question i.e. issues and facts that are not relevant will not help the Judge to decide the case
- If you produce evidence to the Court, you have to explain to the Judge what the evidence is for and give details about how it was obtained and why it is reliable and believable
So, there you have it, some basic information on what happens in a Criminal Trial during the Prosecution’s case.