Criminal Procedure Rules are a set of rules that define how police and courts must treat a defendant accused of a crime. These rules emerge from the UK’s history of fair legal practice, designed to ensure the criminal justice system meets the needs of defendants and prosecutors.
The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 provides in-depth details describing how law enforcement authorities should approach the case of someone accused of a crime.
Criminal Procedure Rules come into effect when someone is accused of a crime. Defendants receive a “summons” to attend court, a request that they appear at their trial on a specific date.
In some cases, the summons simply provides notice that the defendant must attend a trial. In others, it contains a form that they must complete.
Defendants may receive summons letters at their home address or while in police custody. Those “charged” with a crime are sometimes held in detention before being taken to court. If the court finds them not guilty, law enforcement will release them.
In the UK, most criminal cases go to magistrates’ court. Here one to three magistrates – civil officers with the authority to convict people – listen to the defendant’s case and pass judgement.
If crimes are more serious, magistrates may pass the case to the Crown Court. Here, a jury decides whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty, and a judge provides sentencing.
Magistrate courts may decline to sentence a convicted criminal, even if they find them guilty if the crime is serious. Escalation to the Crown Court for this function is common.
Under Criminal Procedure Rules, courts do not go through the entire case in a single session. Instead, the first hearing is usually an information-gathering exercise if the defendant pleads not guilty. The court then “adjourns,” which means postponing the date of the trial and evidence presentation to future hearings.
At these subsequent sessions, the magistrates or jury will listen to or read the evidence from the prosecution witnesses first. The defendant or their lawyer will then have an opportunity to question the prosecution.
After that, the defendant can provide written or witness evidence in their defence. The law is clear that it is the task of the prosecution to prove the defendant guilty. It is not the job of the defendant to prove their innocence.
Once the court receives all the evidence, it will decide if the defendant is guilty. In magistrates’ court, magistrates make this decision, while in a Crown Court, the jury has this power. If guilty, judges may sentence criminals to prison, unpaid work, or a fine.
Criminal Procedure Rules 2020 are a set of documents covering criminal procedure rules in more detail. The government breaks these down into a series of 50 parts, covering everything from starting a prosecution in a magistrate’s court to extradition.
Understanding criminal procedure rules helps defendants and prosecutors understand their rights during proceedings. A firm grip on these concepts can be beneficial for anyone moving through the justice system.