Guide

What happens at a criminal court case

Last updated: 29 June 2017

People in the courtroom

These are the people you would expect to see in a normal criminal case, such as those heard in a sheriff court.

The judge or sheriff

The judge or sheriff is an expert in the law and is in charge of everything that happens in the court room.

They'll make sure everything is done fairly within the law and that the court rules and legal procedures are followed. They also have a duty to protect the interests of all people involved in the case, including witnesses.

The Procurator Fiscal or advocate depute

This is the prosecution lawyer. They present the prosecution case against the person charged with a crime. The prosecution has the 'burden of proof' which means they'll need to present enough evidence to prove 'beyond reasonable doubt' that an accused person is guilty. They'll ask witnesses questions in court so they can give their evidence in their answers.

Defence lawyers

The defence lawyer or counsel acts on behalf of the accused and will test the evidence presented by the prosecution and put the accused's position to the court. They must look after the accused's interests at all times. If there's more than one accused person, there may be more that one lawyer in court and each of them may ask a witness questions about their evidence.

Jury

In some cases, it's the jury who decides whether the law has been broken. The jury is made up of 15 members of the public who know nothing about the case before it starts. They'll listen to the evidence and decide if the case against an accused person has been proven 'beyond reasonable doubt.'

There isn't always a jury.

The clerk of court

The clerk of the court is responsible for calling the case, assisting the judge and keeping the court papers and records.

The court officer

The court officer assists the court and lets the witnesses know when it's their turn to give evidence. They may show a witness different pieces of evidence like clothing or photographs.

The accused

The accused is the person charged with committing a crime.

Court police or security officers

Court police and security officers make sure everyone in court building is well behaved and safe.

The public

Criminal courts are usually open to the public. Members of the public – over the age of 14 – can sit in the public area at the back of the courtroom to watch and listen to the witnesses and the lawyers. In some cases, the courtroom may be closed to members of the public.

The press

The press aren't excluded from court, even if the courtroom is closed to the rest of the public. If the press decide to report on the case, there may be restrictions on the identification of children and sexual offence victims.

Witnesses

A witness answers questions and tells the court what they know.

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What happens at a criminal court case
People in the courtroom