Defence opening statements are to be introduced in the Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court in England and Wales from 4 April 2016. Changes are to be made to Rules 24.3 and 25.9 of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2015 to introduce defence opening statements, which are to be heard immediately after the prosecution opening speech, where a defendant pleads ‘not guilty’.
One of the aims of this change is to better identify for Magistrates and jurors, at an early stage, those matters which are in dispute between prosecution and defence. They may then have this in mind when hearing the prosecution and defence evidence.
Prior to this rule change it has normally been the case that only the prosecuting counsel has made an opening speech, immediately before calling witnesses for the prosecution. The prosecution evidence has typically been followed by the presentation of any witnesses called by the defence (usually starting with the defendant himself if he is to give evidence), then closing speeches – first by the prosecution and then by the defence. In the Crown Court this has been followed by the judge’s summing up of the evidence and his directions on the law, before the jury retire to consider their verdict.
It could therefore be the case that it would not be until almost the conclusion of the trial that the Magistrates or jurors would hear a structured presentation of the key elements of the defence challenge to the prosecution case.
Under the new Rules it is intended that Magistrates and jurors should be enabled to have the essence of the defence in mind, focussing on what is in issue, when hearing all of the evidence.
The Rule change follows a recommendation in the Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings by Sir Brian Leveson, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, published on 23 January 2015.
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(Note: This article discusses the criminal law of England and Wales. There are a number of additional issues which could be relevant to a defendant’s trial in particular cases which it is not possible to deal with in a relatively short article such as this. Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case.)