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. The most important thing that you can do to help your case is to maintain contact with your legal team and provide them with as much information as possible. This will help to identify what your defence is and what needs to be done in order to best prepare it for trial.
What happens after I have pleaded not guilty?
At your first hearing your solicitor will obtain the initial details of the prosecution case. This is usually just a summary of the evidence and includes the charge sheet, a case summary of the the prosecution evidence, a summary of what if anything you said in interview and your criminal record if you have one.
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.
In due course the prosecution are then required to serve their full case papers including, for example, any CCTV evidence and a recording of your police interview. They are also required to serve initial disclosure of the prosecution case. This contains a schedule of evidence/information that the prosecution have but are not relying on but may either undermine their case or assist yours.
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 or solicitor advocate). 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. It will also help your solicitor identify whether any experts need to be instructed on your behalf.
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.