What Happens at a Trial

Getting Started

  • The court clerk calls the court to order and asks everyone to stand while the judge enters the courtroom. Once the judge is seated, everyone else sits down.
  • The court clerk reads the charges. The judge asks the accused if they plead guilty or not guilty to committing the crime. They respond.
  • Crown counsel requests an order excluding all witnesses. This means all witnesses must leave the courtroom and not return until they are called to testify. This is done to make sure witnesses are not influenced by other evidence presented during the trial. The judge orders all witnesses to leave the courtroom. In almost all cases, the accused stays in the courtroom when the witnesses give their evidence.

The Case for the Crown

  • Crown counsel presents evidence first. This is referred to as the prosecution case. 
  • Crown counsel presents evidence by asking witnesses questions about what happened. This is called direct examination. All evidence must be introduced through a witness.  
  • After each witness testifies about the incident, the defence counsel usually asks questions to better understand what the witness has said or to challenge the evidence or witness’ credibility. This is called cross-examination. 
  • Once defence counsel’s cross-examination is done, Crown counsel may ask further questions about matters that came up during cross-examination.

The Case for the Defence

  • Defence counsel may call witnesses and present evidence in the accused's support, but are not required to. When defence counsel calls witnesses, Crown counsel has the opportunity to cross-examine them.

Legal Arguments Made During Trial

  • Sometimes, witnesses and/or the jury are asked to leave the courtroom while the lawyers make legal arguments about such things as whether certain evidence can be given (or admitted) to the court. If evidence is admissible, it can be considered by the judge or jury in coming to conclusions about the facts.

Final Statements

  • After all witnesses have testified, Crown and defence counsel make final statements to the court. This includes a summary of evidence presented, the relevant law and their arguments for or against finding the accused guilty.

Instructions to the Jury

  • In a jury trial, once Crown and defence counsel have presented all evidence and made their final statements, the judge tells the jury which laws apply to the case and gives guidance on how to use the evidence. This explanation is called the jury instruction.

The Decision

  • If the judge is sitting alone, they decide if the accused is found guilty or not guilty. The judge might decide at the end of the trial or may make the decision later. The judge can deliver their decision orally or in writing.
  • In a jury trial, the jurors go to a separate room and discuss the case until they all agree about whether the accused is guilty or not guilty. The jury may ask the judge for more information about legal issues. If the jurors cannot agree after a reasonable time, the judge will declare a mistrial and a new trial will take place.