key stages criminal case defense

Criminal Defence Solicitors

December 14, 2018

In this article we explain how criminal defence solicitors are able to assist you whether you are simply being investigated by police or if you have been charged with a criminal offence and are required to attend the Magistrates Court or Crown Court. This articles explains the funding options, including the instruction of a criminal solicitor with legal aid and the possibility of paying privately for the best criminal defence. 

The police interview

Frequently asked questions include:

  • The police want to interview me, do I need a solicitor?
  • Do I have to attend the police station for interview?
  • I have been interviewed by police, what happens next?

The interview with police is often the most crucial stage of the case. Quite often the police will have investigated the alleged criminal offence for months or years before the police interview takes place. The accused is expected by police to provide their defence during interview, often at very short notice. This clearly puts the accused in a very difficult position. They are essentially being asked to give evidence. If they are subsequently charged with an offence, the interview will be read to the Jury at trial. If the accused fails to mention something during interview that they advance in their defence at trial this can be held against them. The accused has often had no time to prepare, whereas the police have often had months or years to do so. The imbalance doesn’t end there – after the interview concludes the police are not under any obligation to present their case against the accused to the Court within a particular period of time. Once the interview has taken place the  police can spend months investigating anything the accused may have told them and try to find evidence to undermine their defence. It is therefore crucial that all individuals who are to be spoken to by police be represented by a solicitor. The solicitor will be able to find out as much information as possible from police before the interview takes place. This is called the disclosure process. Armed with as much detail as possible, your solicitor will then be in a position to advise you as to whether you should answer all questions, answer ‘no comment,’ or to provide an account via a prepared statement. For more detailed information regarding the options available at the police station, please follow this link.

The importance of this decision cannot be overstated. Many individuals are charged with offences as a direct result of making the wrong decision at the police station. In other cases, the approach taken during interview can be the difference between a conviction or acquittal.

To answer the second question above – if you have been invited to attend the police station as a volunteer to be interviewed under caution, you do not have to attend. If you do attend, then as a volunteer you can leave at any time. However it would ordinarily be in your best interests to attend and remain until the interview has concluded as in most cases if you were to refuse, the police could arrest to allow the interview to take place. This would involve you being detained at a police station rather than attending voluntarily.

As far as the next steps are concerned once the interview has concluded, you will most likely be released under investigation or released on police bail.

If alternatively you are charged with a criminal offence, you will be required to attend the Magistrates Court to make your first appearance. If for example the offence took place in Manchester, then you would be required to attend Manchester Magistrates Court. This is because the proceedings will take place in the area where the alleged offence took place, which will not necessarily be where you reside.

Magistrates Court – Criminal Solicitors

Frequently asked questions include:

  • Can I pay privately for a top criminal lawyer?
  • Do I have to pay for the best criminal solicitors?
  • Will I get legal aid for a defence solicitor?
  • What are the disadvantages of legal aid in a criminal case?
  • I have been charged with an offence, what will happen at the Magistrates Court?

If you have been charged with an offence you will have been given a date to attend the Magistrates Court and are likely to wish to be represented by a criminal solicitor. The first issue you are likely to consider is funding for a criminal solicitor.

You may choose to apply for legal aid or alternatively to pay a criminal solicitor privately to represent you. Our criminal defence solicitors represent clients who are privately paying and will be happy to provide you with a quotation. In some cases you can be represented by a criminal solicitor following an application for legal aid. In certain circumstances we may be able to represent you via the legal aid scheme. Both options are discussed in further detail below.

Criminal solicitors – legal aid

We only agree to represent individuals on a legally aided basis if we are confident that we can provide them with the best possible criminal defence. We routinely provide an outstanding service on a legally aided basis and have access to the top barristers and experts who can also be funded via the legal aid scheme. As we instruct the most senior barristers in relation to the most lucrative and high profile cases we are often able to persuade the same barristers to assist on other matters. It is always our intention to provide the best possible criminal defence service. All of the criminal cases that we agree to deal with are Director-led, ensuring that our client’s have the best possible representation.

If you are unhappy with your current solicitors who have legal aid, you can apply to transfer legal aid to a new solicitor. Please contact us for further information about the process for transferring legal aid.

Criminal Solicitors – paying privately

Many individuals choose to pay privately for their criminal defence service. In some cases, there may be limitations with respect to the service available via legal aid that are out of our control. For example some experts cannot be secured via legal aid and in many cases it is not possible to instruct Queens Counsel via legal aid. An individual may wish to pay privately to secure the services of a specific barrister. In addition, there may be certain services that we can only offer if a case is funded privately. For example we have previously travelled internationally to assist individuals who for a number of reasons may have been unable to travel to this country. As criminal defence lawyers that routinely represent high net worth individuals and celebrities, we understand that it is often imperative to provide a bespoke service tailor made to suit your needs. For further information as to how much it will cost to be privately represented by our criminal defence team please contact us for a free private consultation.  Our solicitors often agree to deal with criminal cases on a fixed fee basis.

One of the other advantages of paying privately for criminal lawyers is that you remove the uncertainty that may exist via the legal aid scheme about how much you will have to pay. A person with legal aid may still be required to make significant monthly contributions to the Government. In addition, at the end of the case a person with legal aid may be asked to pay a capital contribution order which in certain cases could be substantial. Paying privately for your criminal representation removes this uncertainty.

Charged with a criminal offence – what will happen at the Magistrates Court?

When you make your first appearance before the Magistrates Court you will be expected to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the offence charged in most cases. In some cases, the offence must be sent to the Crown Court in which case you will not be expected to enter a plea.

If you enter a guilty plea, the Court will then decide whether you should be sentenced at the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court.

If you enter a not guilty plea, the Court will decide whether the trial should take place at the Magistrates Court or Crown Court. Some offences must remain at the Magistrates Court, others can be dealt with at either the Magistrates Court or Crown Court. If the decision is taken to list the trial at the Magistrates Court, then you may then have the choice of accepting that decision or alternatively choosing to have the trial at the Crown Court. This is referred to as electing Crown Court trial.

This is an extremely important decision. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options and you should receive advice from a criminal solicitor prior to making this decision. The consequences of making the wrong decision can be very serious. Making the wrong decision could increase the likelihood of conviction or alternatively could result in a higher sentence being available to the Court if the accused is found guilty.

The decision as to whether to plead guilty or not guilty is also clearly a very important one. Your defence lawyers will carefully review the evidence against you and advise you as to the likely outcome following trial. They will also advise you as to the likely sentence if convicted after a trial, in comparison to the likely sentence if pleading guilty, allowing you to make an informed decision.

If entering a not guilty plea, the accused will need to answer a number of questions that the Court will ask in order to effectively manage the case. The questions relate to the issues that will be relevant at trial, defence witnesses and expert evidence. Your representative may also be expected to address issues of law such as bad character, bail or hearsay applications. You will need to be advised in relation to each issue prior to the hearing by your solicitor. If you are represented, your solicitor will answer these questions on your behalf. Failing to mention important aspects of your defence at this stage can significantly affect your ability to advance a strong defence at a later stage.

Crown Court – criminal solicitors

Your case may proceed to the Crown Court if the Magistrates Court send it there or alternatively if you choose to have your trial before a Judge and Jury at the Crown Court.

If you entered a guilty plea at the first hearing at the Magistrates Court, you are likely to be sentenced at the Crown Court on your first appearance there. For all other cases, your first appearance before the Crown Court is referred to as a pre trial preparation hearing. (PTPH)

At the PTPH, you will be required to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If your defence team are considering making an application to dismiss or are to argue that there has been an abuse of process, the Court will be informed.

Your solicitors will instruct a barrister to represent you at the Crown Court. Together your criminal solicitors and barrister will review all of the evidence in the case and advise you fully in relation to the offences charged. You will be advised in relation to the strength of the evidence and plea. If you decide to enter a not guilty plea, a trial date will be fixed. The trial will be listed to take place at least several months after your first appearance before the Crown Court, but for more serious and complex matters the trial could be over a year later.

During this period, your legal team will carefully consider the defence strategy. It is important to consider whether to instruct experts to challenge the prosecution case or to strengthen the defence case. Any defence witnesses will need to be spoken to by your legal team and warned to attend trial. You will be required to serve a defence case statement. This is an extremely important document which will be drafted by your solicitors, pursuant to your instructions. It sets out the nature of your defence and a failure to include any important aspects of your defence can weaken your defence at trial. Your legal team will be required to comply with directions fixed by the Judge at the earlier PTPH, which may include responding to bad character applications, hearsay applications or presenting arguments that certain evidence should be inadmissible at trial.

In addition to reviewing the evidence in the case, it will also be important to carefully consider any unused material that is disclosed to the defence. This is material which the Prosecution do not rely upon as evidence at trial, but which may assist the defence case or undermine the Prosecution case. A separate article dealing with disclosure is available here.

Your defence lawyers will also prepare their cross examination of Prosecution witnesses at trial. This presents the opportunity to challenge any aspects of the Prosecution which the accused states are incorrect.

The Crown Court Trial – what happens at a trial?

After a Jury is sworn, the Prosecution will make an opening speech, explaining to the jury what they believe has happened. After this they will call witnesses into Court to give evidence, one person at a time. After giving evidence, each Prosecution witness will be cross examined by the barrister representing the defendant. Usually there will be statements from witnesses which are not disputed by the defendant. In such circumstances, the relevant statements are simply read to the Jury after all of the live witnesses have given evidence in person. Any other evidence that the Prosecution may wish to rely upon, such as CCTV footage, will also be played to the jury during the Prosecution case. The contents of the defendant’s interview with police will also be read to the Jury. The Prosecution case will then close.

If your defence solicitor is of the opinion that Prosecution have failed to present a case to answer then they can make a submission of no case to answer. If successful, the decision as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty is taken away from the Jury and the Judge dismisses the case. The defendant is free to leave and the case has concluded. If this application cannot be made or is refused, then the defence case will begin.

The defence case will usually begin with the defendant giving evidence. However it is important to note that the right to silence does not end at the police station. The defendant does not have to give evidence at trial. Sometimes, usually for tactical reasons, the accused’s legal team may advise them against giving evidence. This is rare however and in the majority of cases the defendant would be advised to provide their account to the jury as a failure to do so can result in an adverse inference being drawn. If the defendant does choose to give evidence, then they will also be cross examined by the Prosecution. This is often the strongest part of the Prosecution case against a defendant and so it is vital that the defence legal team prepare the defendant thoroughly for this process. An experienced criminal solicitor is able to predict the likely areas of cross examination and then prepare the defendant accordingly. In this sense, the ability to expertly defend first involves an ability to consider how one would most effectively prosecute the same case.

After the defendant has given evidence, the defence may also call evidence from experts they have instructed and other defence witnesses.

Closing speeches will then be provided by the Prosecutor and Defence barrister to the Jury. A good defence strategy involves giving consideration at a very early stage to how best to counter the Prosecution case and which issues to raise on behalf of the defence case.

The standard of proof in criminal cases requires the Jury to be sure that the accused committed the criminal offence. This means that even if a Jury believe that it is likely that a defendant committed an offence, but they are not sure, then they must find them not guilty. A good closing speech will therefore highlight any deficiencies in the Prosecution case or contradictory evidence. The speech will also remind the jury of all of the strongest points arising from the defence case. Most importantly, the defence barrister will remind the jury that if they have any reasonable doubt, that they must acquit.

Despite being a detailed article in truth this only provides a very brief overview of the options available to an individual accused of a criminal offence and how a solicitor can assist them throughout the life of their case. It should be clear however that there are extremely important decisions to be made at all stages of both the initial investigation and Court proceedings. Successful outcomes following trial are likely to be the result of the right decisions being made at all key stages of the case. The top criminal solicitors do not adopt a formulaic approach to advice, there is often no clear right or wrong answer and strategic thinking is always required. For example some decisions which may seem to be sensible enquiries to the lay person could in fact be immensely damaging to a defence case.

The best criminal defence solicitors understand that knowing when to exercise restraint can be just as important as knowing how to attack the Prosecution case.  

For advice in relation to a criminal offence please do not hesitate to contact us.