Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsAllegations of more serious criminal offences are tried in the Crown Court, and given the nature of the charge against Joe, that is where his trial is taking place. We are going to focus on Joe, but you can see that he is being tried along with Alan. Not all courtrooms look exactly the same, but there are some common features, which Joe sees from his position in the ‘dock’. Various lawyers occupy the benches in front of Joe, facing the judge. These include his solicitor – who was with him for his police interview, and a barrister to argue his case to the court. There are also lawyers for the prosecution.

Skip to 0 minutes and 43 secondsPart of the barristers’ job is to question witnesses, who will be giving evidence for or against Joe. When answering the questions, the witnesses sit or stand in a ‘witness box’. They have to promise to tell the truth. The evidence in Joe’s case is heard by a jury made up of 12 randomly selected members of the public. They sit together in court to hear the evidence, and at the end of the case they retire, to deliberate and discuss it. Their main job is to return a verdict – they will have to decide whether Joe is guilty or not guilty of the offence charged.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 secondsThere is also a public area or gallery in the court: generally, a trial is an open process. Joe’s family and friends are here, but anybody can attend and view proceedings. The judge is in charge of the court and acts as a referee, making sure that the lawyers question witnesses appropriately and that only relevant evidence is heard by the jury. The judge also helps the jury to understand and apply the law in the case.

Joe's trial

We’ll follow Joe into the courtroom and use this animation to try to get an idea of some important aspects of the trial process. Things that it would be good to look out for include:

(i) Who does what? What can you learn about the roles of the participants?

(ii) The layout of the courtroom: Not all courtrooms look the same, but there are some general common features. How does the way that the courtroom is set out relate to the various jobs that people do?

(iii) The location of Joe: What does Joe’s location suggest to you about the way in which defendants participate in the trial process?

You’ll see that only Joe and Alan are on trial. You might be wondering why this is. What about the other members of their group? Think back to the idea of attrition that we encountered in week 1. We know that even if these other group members have committed a crime, that there are various reasons why their case might not progress past particular stages of the criminal justice process. So, it might be that the other individuals have not been apprehended. Perhaps they were apprehended but a decision was taken not to prosecute them. Or, it may be that they have already pleaded guilty - in which case their trial is effectively already over, apart from the sentencing stage.

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This video is from the free online course:

From Crime to Punishment: an Introduction to Criminal Justice

University of York