What happens at a jury trial
At the start of a trial, the court clerk will ask the defendant if they're ready for trial. If they are ready, the clerk randomly selects jury panel numbers. When a panel number is called, the juror goes to the jury box.
Choosing the jury
It's important you know your jury panel number. The court uses numbers not names when selecting jurors. At the start of the trial, the court clerk randomly selects jury panel numbers.
If they call your panel number, reply “yes” and go to the jury box in the courtroom. Court security staff will guide you. This is the area where jurors sit during the trial.
When selected, you must either be 'sworn' or 'affirmed' before you become a juror. The court clerk will ask which method you want to use, and will invite you to repeat after them the words of the oath and affirmation, which are similar and mean the same.
The oath or affirmation means that you publicly confirm that you will consider the issues faithfully, according to the evidence.
Once sworn onto a jury, you must always sit in the same place in the jury box.
Challenge to a juror
Prosecution or defence lawyers could 'challenge' you if they think you should not serve as a juror. They must give a good reason. If the judge accepts their reason, you won't be allowed to serve as a juror on that particular trial. But you could be called to serve on the jury in another case.
Being a 'stand-by' juror
Sometimes when your number is called, the prosecution may want you to 'stand-by'. This means that you won't need to sit on the jury unless the jury list becomes exhausted and stand-bys will be recalled. Then you might be sworn as a juror.
If you recognise the defendant or anyone else involved in the trial, tell a court official at once by passing them a note.
People in the courtroom
There are different people involved in a court trial.
The judge sits at the front of the court and controls proceedings. They control the trial and decides questions of law. A High Court Judge is called 'my lord'. A county court judge, sitting in the Crown Court, is called 'your honour'.
Foreperson of the jury
The first person selected as a juror acts as the foreperson of the jury. Their role is to write the jury’s decision (guilty or not guilty) against the charges on the Issue Paper (a form that the charges against the defendants are listed on) and announce the verdict in open court.
The defendant sits in the dock accompanied by a prison officer. Youths appearing in court sit next to the dock.
The court clerk/ registrar
The court clerk/ registrar sits at the front of the court, directly below the judge. They swear the jury and co-ordinate the court proceedings.
Once a jury has been chosen, two jury keepers (usually members of court security staff) are also sworn. Their job is to make sure that no one contacts jurors during the trial and to provide a way for jurors to communicate with the court.
Also known as counsel, barristers wear black robes and wigs. Prosecution counsel presents the evidence against the defendant to the court. Defence counsel presents the case for the defendant and challenges the prosecution’s evidence.
Sometimes solicitor advocates will present evidence in the Crown Court in place of a barrister. The solicitor advocates will carry out the same role as a barrister but don't wear a wig or gown.
Solicitors sit either behind or in front of counsel. They will have previously instructed counsel (given them the details of the case) before the case has come to court. They don't speak in court except when the jury is being selected.
There are many types of witnesses that can be called during a case. Witnesses may include forensic scientists, police officers, medical experts, eyewitnesses and others. Some evidence is very detailed and specialised. Listen carefully to all the evidence and pay attention to any exhibits, as this will be the basis on which you must decide your verdict.
Court reporters/stenographers/shorthand writers
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 a shorthand writer or stenographer.
If there is a stenographer or shorthand writer, they usually sit beside the court clerk and records everything that is said in court. This record may be used if the case goes to appeal.
Court crier/tip staff
The court crier/tip staff wears a gown and swears in the witnesses and announces that the jury is sworn.
If the defendant is unable to understand English, the court will arrange an interpreter.
The case follows a set pattern. The court clerk reads out the charges against the accused person.
A case before the Crown Court could involve:
- several different crimes
A case before the High Court could involve an allegation of libel or slander.
The prosecution begins by outlining details of the case, calling and questioning witnesses. When the prosecution has finished questioning each witness, it is the defence counsel's turn to question the same witnesses. This is cross-examination.
When the prosecution case is complete, the defence follows a similar procedure by calling the witnesses who can be cross-examined by the prosecution.
In a few cases, such as cases involving vulnerable adult or child witnesses, the witness may sit in a separate room in the courthouse and give evidence to the court using video-link equipment. A vulnerable adult or child may have an intermediary present to help them in giving their evidence to the court.
There may be times when the legal professionals and the judge need time to discuss a point of law. The judge will ask the jury to leave the court for a short time. Once the matter has been resolved, the jury will be asked back to the courtroom.
When all the evidence has been given, the prosecution and then the defence will make their closing speeches when they will try to convince the jury of their respective cases.
Finally, the judge sums up. This means they will go over the facts of the case and tell you, the jury, about the relevant law. The judge will also give you advice before you retire to the jury room to discuss the case. Think about their comments carefully as judges are lawyers with years of experience.
Inside the jury room
Inside the jury room jurors discuss the case by carefully considering the evidence presented in court by:
- all the witnesses
- the arguments of the defence and prosecution
- the summing up by the judge
No outside communication is allowed, except through the jury keepers.
Contempt of court
It is an offence, punishable with a fine or imprisonment, for a juror to tell anyone about any statements, opinions, arguments or votes made by jury members while they are considering the case.
Problems during deliberation
If a jury encounters any problems while they are discussing the case amongst themselves, they can contact the judge through the jury keepers for guidance.
If no jury decision by the end of the day
The jury will be brought back into the courtroom and the judge will remind them that they should not talk to anyone about the case. They will then be formally released until the following morning.
The next morning the jury will be called into the courtroom and asked to go to the jury room.
Reaching a verdict
When you have reached a verdict, tell the jury keeper and you will be taken back into the courtroom. The court clerk will ask the foreperson to deliver the verdict on each charge.
The foreperson must take care to only answer the questions that the court clerk asks them. When this has been done, your task is over, but stay in the jury box until the judge tells you to leave.
If the defendant has been found guilty, the judge may pass sentence immediately. The judge might adjourn the case until reports are made available to the court. They will pass sentence on a different day. The judge will direct the jury about any further attendance or if they are no longer needed.