Nature of offences: Indictable offences are the most serious criminal offences and include offences such as murder, rape, robbery, serious fraud, drug trafficking, and other major criminal offences. These offences are considered more severe and carry higher penalties compared to summary offences.
Crown court jurisdiction: Indictable offences are tried in the Crown Court, which is a higher court within the criminal justice system. The Crown Court has exclusive jurisdiction over these cases and is presided over by a judge.
Jury trial: Indictable offences are generally heard with a jury in the Crown Court. The jury, composed of ordinary citizens, listens to the evidence presented during the trial and determines the guilt or innocence of the accused. The jury's decision must be reached by a unanimous or majority verdict, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.
Conviction on indictment: If the accused is found guilty, depending on the seriousness of the case, a conviction on indictment will likely results in imprisonment and a criminal record for the accused. The imprisonment and criminal record may have implications for future employment, travel, and other aspects of his life.
The procedure of a trial on indictment in England and Wales generally follows these key steps:
Charging decision: The Crown Prosecution Service reviews the evidence and decides whether to charge the accused with an indictable offence. If they decide to proceed, the accused is formally charged with the offence.
Initial appearance: The accused appears before the Magistrates' Court for an initial hearing known as the first appearance. At this stage, the accused is informed of the charges and their rights, and a plea of guilty or not guilty is entered. If the accused pleads guilty, the case may proceed directly to sentencing or be transferred to the Crown Court for sentencing.
Case preparation: Both the prosecution and defence engage in case preparation, which includes gathering and reviewing evidence, identifying witnesses, and formulating legal strategies. This stage may involve disclosure of evidence, witness statements, and expert reports between the prosecution and defence.
Plea and case management hearing: In the Crown Court, a plea and case management hearing takes place to ensure that both parties are ready for trial. The accused is given an opportunity to change their plea if necessary, and any legal or procedural issues are addressed.
Jury selection: If the case proceeds to trial, a jury is selected. Potential jurors are randomly selected from the general public, and both the prosecution and defence have the opportunity to challenge and remove jurors through a process called voir dire based on specific criteria.
Opening statements: At the beginning of the trial, the prosecution and defence present their opening statements. The prosecution outlines the case and the evidence they intend to present, while the defence outlines their position and any key arguments.
Presentation of evidence: The prosecution presents its evidence, which may include witness testimonies, expert opinions, documents, physical evidence, and other exhibits. The defence has the opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses and challenge the evidence presented. The defence may also present its own evidence and witnesses.
Closing statements: After the presentation of evidence, both the prosecution and defence make closing statements summarising the evidence and arguments presented during the trial. They may highlight key points and urge the jury to reach a particular verdict.
Jury deliberation and verdict: The jury retires to the deliberation room to deliberate on the evidence presented. They assess the guilt or innocence of the accused based on the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt. The jury's decision must be reached by a unanimous or majority verdict, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.
Sentencing: If the accused is found guilty, the judge presiding over the case in the Crown Court proceeds to sentencing. The judge considers factors such as the nature of the offence, the circumstances of the case, any relevant sentencing guidelines, and mitigating factors or aggravating factors presented. The judge imposes a penalty within the statutory limits and sentencing guidelines set for the particular offence. The judge has wider sentencing powers compared to the Magistrates' Court and can impose longer terms of imprisonment, higher fines, and other custodial sentences.
Appeals: If either the prosecution or the defence is dissatisfied with the outcome of the trial, they have the right to appeal the decision. Appeals from the Crown Court go to the Court of Appeal, which is a higher appellate court. Defendants convicted in the Crown Court have the right to appeal their conviction or sentence if they believe there are grounds for appeal.
Trials on indictment are conducted for the most serious criminal offences, and they follow a more extensive and formal procedure compared to summary trials.
You can learn more about this topic with our Criminal Practice notes.