Who's in the Courtroom?

Defendant

The defendant (also known as 'the accused') is the person who is charged with an offence.

Lawyers

One lawyer (or team of lawyers) will speak for the prosecution and one (or a team) will speak for the defence. If there is more than one defendant, there may be a different lawyer for each defendant.

Most prosecutions are carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on behalf of the Crown (the Queen). This is why you will see or hear the case talked about as R v ‘defendant’s name’ where ‘R’ means ‘Regina’ or the Queen. The CPS decides whether or not to prosecute cases the police have investigated and, if so, what charges to bring against the defendant.

Both lawyers try to persuade the magistrates or jury how the evidence shows the truth of what really happened.

Witnesses (including you)

There are usually witnesses for the prosecution (whose evidence is used to try to prove the defendant is guilty) and for the defence (not guilty).

Whether you are called as a prosecution witness or a defence witness will depend on which side thinks your evidence is most helpful to their case.

Magistrates, district judge or judge

A magistrate, district judge or judge may ask you questions about your witness statement. In a Crown Court trial, the jury can write down questions which they pass to the judge. The judge then asks the witness.

If the defendant is found guilty (convicted), the magistrates, district judge or judge decide the sentence (what happens to the defendant, such as a fine, community service or a prison sentence).

The jury (only in the Crown Court)

A jury is made up of 12 people who, as far as possible, represent 'the general public'. As jurors are chosen at random, they are likely to reflect a representative mix of people of different ages, from different cultural backgrounds, and doing different jobs.

Once the jury has heard all the evidence, including what you (and other witnesses) say, they talk in a private room about what they have heard. They discuss the evidence. If they are sure that they have heard proof that the defendant committed the crime, they will find the defendant guilty. If the jury is not sure of a defendant’s guilt, they must find him or her not guilty.

One member of the jury is chosen to be the ‘foreman’ and tell the court what all 12 have decided. This is the verdict. Everyone in the court hears the verdict.

Sometimes, all 12 people cannot agree whether they find a defendant guilty or not guilty, even if they talk about it for days or even weeks. If this happens, the judge will tell the jury that a verdict can be given if at least 10 of them agree (a majority verdict). If a majority verdict cannot be returned, the prosecution must decide if it wants to ask for a retrial, which means the whole case will be heard again before a different jury. If the prosecution decide not to ask for a retrial, the defendant will be found not guilty.

Clerk of the court

The clerk of the court makes sure that all the people who should be in court are there, and that what is supposed to happen happens, on time and in the right order. He or she may also look up the records of what happened in other trials if the judge needs the information. In magistrates’ courts, the clerk, often called the legal advisor, also gives magistrates advice on legal matters.

Court ushers

In court, when the lawyer says that they want to call someone as a witness, the usher is the person who actually goes outside the court and calls them in.

Other people

Other people you may see in the court include police officers, probation officers, members of the Witness Service and journalists. In some courts, members of the public are allowed to come and watch what happens from the public gallery. This can include friends and relatives of the people involved in the case.