Hearing in the District Court
What is the procedure in a criminal case in the District Court?
What we in everyday language refer to as a 'trial' is known in court as a main hearing. In a main hearing in a criminal case, the court decides whether the person who is suspected of a crime is guilty. At the same time it is decided what the sentence (sanction) is to be.
Presiding in a criminal case in the District Court are a legally qualified judge and three lay judges if the sanction (sentence) is expected to be heavier than a fine. On the page 'Who's who?'' you can read more about the people who are involved in the hearing.
What happens in the courtroom?
The presiding judge checks who is present
The District Court summons the parties to the courtroom by means of a public address system. Everyone then enters the courtroom.
The presiding judge, who is a legally qualified judge, checks to see whether everyone has arrived and whether there are any impediments to the hearing taking place. If someone is missing this could result in the hearing being postponed. If this happens, everyone will be summoned to a new hearing at a later date.
In most cases the witnesses are not permitted to be present in the courtroom until they are to be heard. They are therefore often called later. The reason why they are not permitted to be present throughout the whole hearing is that they could be influenced by what others say in the court.
The prosecutor's claims
The presiding judge hands over to the prosecutor, who requests that the District Court finds the defendant, i.e. the suspect, guilty of the crime or crimes for which the prosecutor feels that he or she is guilty of committing.
The plaintiff, i.e. the alleged victim of the crime, can claim damages from the defendant. If necessary, the prosecutor can assist with this.
The defendant has the opportunity to respond
The presiding judge asks the defendant whether he or she pleads guilty or not guilty to the crime. The defendant is also asked whether he or she agrees to pay damages if such a claim has been made. The defendant most often has a defence lawyer at his/her side to offer assistance during the hearing.
The prosecutor presents the facts
The prosecutor presents an account of what he or she alleges has occurred. This is called a presentation of facts. At the same time, the prosecutor usually goes through written evidence, such as a medical certificate.
Examination of the plaintiff
The plaintiff, i.e. the alleged victim of the crime, is then heard. Both the parties and the judges can ask questions. Often the plaintiff is required to remain after being heard as there could be someone who wishes to ask further questions. Sometimes the plaintiff has a legal adviser to help.
In exceptional cases the examination of the plaintiff can take place without the defendant being present in the courtroom. In this case the defendant listens to the examination in a separate room.
The defendant has the opportunity to respond
The defendant, i.e. the person suspected of the crime, or the defence lawyer, presents his/her account of what has happened and responds to questions.
Examination of witnesses
The witnesses are called one at a time and are examined.
The witness is first required to take an oath. The presiding judge reads out the oath and the witness repeats.
Any person who knowingly does not speak the truth under oath, or fails to say what he or she knows, could be found guilty of perjury.
The parties and the judges can put questions to the witnesses.
In exceptional circumstances the witness can be examined without the defendant being present in the courtroom. In this case the defendant listens to the examination in a separate room.
In some situations the District Court can examine witnesses by telephone.
The defendant's personal circumstances
The defendant's personal circumstances are dealt with. The presiding judge then presents the documents available, such as an extract from the criminal records and a statement from the probation service.
The defendant also gives an account of his/her circumstances. The judge asks questions about the defendant's finances. This is of significance to how heavy the fine will be and how much of the costs for counsel for the defence the defendant must possibly pay. If a parent or other person who knows the defendant well is present they can be given the opportunity to say more about the personal circumstances.
The parties conclude their cases. The most common procedure is that the prosecutor first summarises his/her views. Counsel for the defence, or the defendant, then presents a summary. The prosecutor and counsel for the defence speak, for example, about what they feel has been proven and what sentence they feel the defendant should be given. These are called closing speeches.
Counsel for the defence requests payment for his/her work, often by submitting a bill of costs to the court.
Following the hearing the judges discuss the case and decide how they will rule. This is known as deliberation. Each judge has one vote. No external party is entitled to be present during deliberation and what is said is confidential, even after the court has pronounced judgment.
Following deliberation, the presiding judge states briefly the content of the judgment (pronounces judgment) and states that anyone who is dissatisfied with the judgment can appeal.
Sometimes judgment is not passed during the hearing and is instead notified at a later date. In this case the presiding judge states on which date and at what time this will take place.
The court always sends the judgment to the parties by post. Read more about the judgment.
The aggrieved party, witnesses and parents of young accused who have been given notice to attend by the district court can receive compensation for, among other things, travelling expenses. Witnesses and others who are given notice to attend at the request of the accused should be compensated by the accused while others receive compensation from the State. Public defence counsel receives compensation from the State for her/his work. The accused may be liable to completely or partially repay what the State has paid to, among others, public defence counsel. An accused who is acquitted can receive compensation from the State for certain costs.
The district court can grant the accused compensation for travel to the trial. Whether compensation will be granted depends upon the accused's income and wealth. Read more under the menu 'Legal proceedings/To the defendant'.
The District Court tries to plan the proceedings in such a way that no one needs to wait unnecessarily. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to avoid waiting and delays occur from time to time.
There is a public address system which the judges use when they summon the parties and witnesses to the courtroom. You can sit in one of the waiting rooms or in the corridor outside. The District Court can often also arrange for you to wait in another room. Contact the caretaker/security staff if you wish to do so.
Inside the courtroom it is possible for the parties and the witnesses to plug a headset into a socket in the table in order to hear better what is being said in the courtroom. Tell the presiding judge if you have problems hearing what is being said.