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In the courtroom

This section explains how a criminal trial is conducted in a courtroom. We have chosen criminal trials because juries are most usually needed for criminal trials. They are not needed for most civil cases.

On your first morning in court, the judge will tell you about the roles and duties of jurors.

Who's who in the Courtroom?

The following are the main participants in the court trial process:

The judge

The judge is in charge in the courtroom. He/she decides questions of law and gives the jury any advice they need.

The lawyers

The case is usually presented by barristers (called counsel). There are barristers for the prosecution representing the State who bring the case (called 'Counsel for the prosecution') and barristers for the accused person (called 'Counsel for the defence'). The barristers receive their instructions from solicitors.

The accused

The accused sits in court. He/she may be held in custody or may be on bail.

The registrar/court clerk

The registrar/court clerk assists the judge with administrative matters such as calling names of jurors, care of court documents and exhibits, administering the oath and recording the names of witnesses and the decision in the case.

The jury

In a criminal case the jury hears the evidence and decides on the guilt or innocence of the accused (see duties of jurors).

Members of the public

Anyone can watch any court case, except where there is a sign reading 'in camera' on the door of the courtroom.

Who's Who in the Courtroom - chart

 

The trial process

Start of the trial

» The court registrar reads out the offences to which the defendant has pleaded guilty or not guilty

» Counsel for the prosecution makes an opening statement outlining the case and explaining what he/she intends to prove

» Counsel for the defence may also make an opening statement

Prosecution

The prosecution case is presented first. Witnesses are called, sworn to tell the truth and questioned by the counsel for the prosecution. Counsel for the defence may then cross examine the witness. The purpose of cross examination is to test the accuracy of the evidence or to emphasise particular aspects of it. While the process can be lengthy and is not always interesting it is important that the members of the jury listen attentively and examine any documents, photographs and other material which is put before them.

Defence

When the prosecution is finished, counsel for the defence can call witnesses or present other evidence. In a criminal trial the accused is presumed innocent and may choose not to call witnesses or present evidence. It is up to the prosecution to prove guilt.

Evidence

The jury's verdict must be based solely on the evidence presented during the trial. The evidence is therefore very important. There are strict rules about what evidence can be given and the type of questions that can be asked. For example, evidence cannot usually be given of what was said by someone who is not a witness, because that person cannot be questioned in court. This is called 'hearsay'.

Counsel on either side may object to the questions asked or the evidence given. The judge then makes a ru ling on whether the evidence is admissible, based on law.

Sometimes the jury is asked to leave the court while these legal points are discussed by the judge and counsel. While this may appear time consuming it is important that the rights of all parties are protected and that the jury only hears evidence that is appropriate and relevant.

Final address

The judge summarises the case and gives instructions to the jury. He/she will explain the jury's function and direct the jury to confine itself to the evidence presented in court and to disregard any media reports. The judge will direct the jury on any legal points that arise. For example, he/she may explain the legal ingredients of the offence of murder so that the jury can arrive at a verdict that conforms to that legal rule.

It is vitally important that each juror listens to all of these instructions and understands them because the judge will define the issue to be decided in the case and set out the relevant law.

Jury retires to consider the verdict

The judge will ask the jury to go into the jury room to consider the verdict. During this time jurors can only talk to other jurors about the case. All the discussion must take place in the privacy of the jury room and when all jurors are present.