We’re expert criminal defence solicitors, and can deal with any aspect of the English criminal law.
The criminal law is the law relating to how the state enforces the conduct of its citizens. In England and Wales breaches of the criminal law are prosecuted in the Magistrates’ Court, the Crown Court, or for service offences, in the Court Martial. Those found to have committed crimes can be sentenced to a range of disposals ranging from the conditional discharge (where no action is taken unless a further offence is committed during the currency of the discharge period), to lengthy prison sentences or even life imprisonment. The more serious the crime, the higher the stakes.
In the majority of cases the alleged offence is investigated by the police for the area where the offence took place. However, there are a number of regional crime units which bring together officers from a number of forces to investigate very serious or complex offences, as well as some other specialist agencies and investigators from other departments such as the UK Border Agency or HM Revenue and Customs. For nationwide serious crime such as large scale drug smuggling or people trafficking there is the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
Criminal prosecutions will usually begin with an arrest and a series of interviews about what has taken place. Suspects are entitled to legal advice, in private, from an independent solicitor during these interviews. Whether and how questions should be answered in interview is an important question because the nature of the answers can be important in any trial.
The majority of interviews are under caution, meaning that the suspect must have been told:
“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm you defence if you fail to mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
Whether to answer questions is a difficult tactical decision which requires careful legal advice. We’re skilled in dealing with serious cases and will give you advice on how to handle the interview.
If following the interview, and any additional time on bail which the investigators need to finalise their investigation, it is decided that there should be a prosecution, the police will charge the suspect with the offence(s). This basically means that they will formally tell the suspect what they are accused of. A court date will be given and the suspect will be kept in police custody to await the court date, or may be released on bail to attend.
Where a suspect is held in custody they will usually have a right to a bail application at the first hearing. Murder cases are an exception because the Magistrates’ Court does not have jurisdiction to grant bail in those circumstances. Bail is the release of a person subject to an obligation to attend Court on another occasion.
The first hearing of all cases is in the Magistrates’ Court, where the hearing is dealt with either by a District Judge (a single qualified lawyer) or a bench of Lay Justices (trained volunteers from the local community). Serious cases will be sent to the Crown Court while lesser offences may remain in the Magistrates’ Court
If a serious case is sent to the Crown Court the next hearing will be before a Crown Court Judge, who will set a timetable for the rest of the case. If bail has not already been considered this may be possible now.
In either Court, if the defendant does not admit that they have committed the offence, there will usually need to be a trial. There will usually be some preparatory hearings to prepare for the trial to take place a few weeks or months later, after all the evidence has been served and the defendant has set out his defence in a defence statement.
The trial is a formal hearing at which evidence can be heard to determine whether the Prosecution have made the Court sure that the defendant committed the alleged crime. The burden of proving the offence is on the prosecution.
In the majority of cases the prosecution have to prove three things:
- That it was the defendant who did whatever is alleged
- That the act alleged was actually done (e.g. a bank was robbed, drugs were sold, a person was killed) – this is called the “actus reus” or guilty act
- That the act was done intentionally or recklessly, or with whatever other mental state is required for the offence (so in theft cases there must be a dishonest intent to permanently deprive the owner of their property, or in murder there must be an intent to kill or cause serious bodily harm) – this is called the “mens rea” or guilty mind
In most cases the prosecution will fail to prove the case if any of the above elements are missing. If the Court is not sure, there will be a Not Guilty verdict. If the Court is sure of all aspects, they will find the accused Guilty.
In the Magistrates’ Court the trial is heard by the Lay Justices or District Judge, whilst in the Crown Court (for the more serious offences) it is heard by a Crown Court Judge and a Jury of 12 ordinary members of the community. The Judge directs the jury on the law and they alone make the decision as to guilt, unless the Judge considers that the Prosecution case taken at its highest is not such that any properly directed jury could convict on the evidence.
If a person is acquitted (found Not Guilty) that is usually the end of the case and they can go about their life being regarded as if the process had never happened. If they are convicted there will be a sentencing hearing, either immediately after the trial, or after a short delay of around three to six weeks in which time further information is obtained about the defendant.
These pages are designed to give you a brief overview of the main important features of some of the more significant areas of our work. Obviously every case is different and slight changes in the factual background can completely change the advice which needs to be given, so there is no substitute for speaking to one of our criminal defence team.
If you need a team of solicitors to represent you or a family member in a serious criminal case, we can help you. We have dealt with many different types of case, both at trial and otherwise, and have successfully defended cases ranging from conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to rob, and even a worldwide conspiracy to distribute indecent images over the internet. That’s not to mention the hundreds of other types of offence we’ve dealt with over the years.
We can help with all aspects of the English and Welsh criminal law. We’ve done it all, from shoplifting, to theft from employers, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, sexual assault, rape, fraud, robbery, possession of drugs with intent to supply, and all the way to conspiracy to murder. We can also deal with motoring offences such as speeding or driving with excess alcohol.
We can deal with cases both in the Magistrates’ Court and in the Crown Court, as well as in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) or even the Supreme Court or the European Cout of Human Rights. We’ve even dealt with an appeal directly to Her Majesty the Queen, via the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council!