Understanding the Law
December 17, 2004
‘A promise to tell the whole

Last week we visited the criminal court to understand what happens inside. When someone commits a crime, for example wounding or rape, the crime is against the state and since the Queen is our head of state, agent of the state, the Director of Public Prosecution (the DPP), brings the case against the accused. {{more}}The person who is affected or injured, the virtual complainant, is most often a witness for the prosecution. The jurors are chosen before the judge but the bailiff must inform him of the completion of the panel in the case at hand. Some 40 jurors would have been summoned sometime before the opening of the assizes. There are nine jurors for a non-capital offence and 12 for a capital offence (offence that carries the death penalty). You were told last week that they swear or affirm to try the case honestly according to the evidence before them. The jury is instructed by the clerk of the court to choose a foreman. The bailiff asks all witnesses to leave the court. The court is now ready to start the case. The prosecution addresses the jury giving information about the case and the witnesses who will be called. The prosecution must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. You will hear these words very often. These do not mean beyond a shadow of a doubt. As long as the jurors have a reasonable doubt in their minds the accused must be acquitted (found not guilty). The accused has nothing to prove and could choose not to give evidence.

The first witness is called and sworn in by the clerk of the court. He swears (holding the Bible) or affirms (raising his right hand) that he will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Director of Public Prosecution or a member of his chambers examines the witness. This is called the examination-in-chief. After this it is the turn of counsel for the accused to cross-examine the witness. If the accused has no lawyer then the judge must inform him of his right to cross-examine the witness. The prosecution has a right to re-examine the witness after the cross examination only if the accused has a lawyer. The judge will always ask the jury for their questions to make sure that they are clear on all issues.

During the course of the trial the prosecution or the defence may appeal to the judge to discuss an issue in the absence of the jury. This may arise where there is an issue that might be prejudicial to the accused. The jury is put in the charge of two police orderlies who must swear to keep them in a safe place (the jury room).

After all the witnesses are examined the prosecution rests his case. At this point the defence may enter a no case submission if he feels that sufficient evidence was not presented to implicate his client. If the judge agrees then the case against the accused stands dismissed. If the submission does not succeed then the accused may call his witnesses to give evidence. The prosecutor will cross-examine the witnesses.

After the defence has completed his case the judge then calls upon the prosecution and the defence to address the jury. The prosecution makes his last attempt to prove his case when he sums up the evidence of the witnesses while the defence tries to convince the jury that his client is not guilty as charged. I will continue with the judge’s summation.