A CPS guide for victims of rape and sexual abuse – What we need to do before the trial

This section explains what our prosecutors need to do before the trial. You can find more information about what support is available to help you give your evidence in the following sections.

Before the trial starts, we need to prepare our case by gathering together all the evidence that we want to use in the trial.

We then have a date, set by the judge, by which we have to share all this information with the judge and the defence team. This is called ‘serving the case’.

This is a chance for the defence team to understand the strength of the case that the police have built against the defendant.

In some cases, this evidence might persuade a defendant to change their plea to ‘guilty’ once they’ve seen how strong the case is. That would mean that we don’t have to hold the trial, you usually wouldn’t have to give evidence in court and the judge could move on to the sentencing stage. If that happens your police, contact will let you know as soon as possible.

We also need to share a list of all the relevant material that we won’t be using with the defendant’s lawyers. This will include anything which is relevant to the offence, the defendant, or the circumstances of the case but that we don’t need to use to prove the case in court. This list is called the schedule of unused material.

Once we’ve put this list together our prosecutor will check to see if any of this extra material might reasonably undermine our case or support the defence case – in other words any information which might help the defence team. This is called the ‘disclosure test’. 

If any of the material does meet this test then we will make copies of it, remove any sensitive or personal information that isn’t needed and then share only the necessary information with the defence team.

If we don’t think material meets the disclosure test, then we won’t share it with them and they’ll only see a short description of it on the schedule of unused material. 

If they think it would help their case the defendant’s lawyers can ask to see the extra material on that list that we haven’t shared. If we don’t think it meets the disclosure test then we won’t share it with them unless the judge decides that they should see it. 

These processes are really important to make sure that the trial is fair for everyone involved.

Before we share any evidence or extra material with the defendant’s lawyers, we will review it to take out any personal or sensitive information that isn’t relevant to the case. Personal information could include things like your address, telephone number etc. Sensitive information could include things like information about your health.

If this kind of information is relevant to the case then we will take steps to protect your privacy by making sure that the defence team only has access to the information that they absolutely need.

If you have any concerns about how any private information might be used, you can speak to your police contact and they’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Our prosecutor needs to apply to the court for permission to use certain types of evidence in the prosecution case.

For example, if we want to use evidence which is not directly related to the case but shows that the defendant has a history of relevant criminal offending or other bad behaviour (bad character evidence) we would need to ask the judge for permission to do this.

The defendant’s lawyer may also want to ask for permission to use certain types of evidence.

For example, in cases involving rape or other sexual offences, the judge needs to grant permission to the defence team to use evidence about your previous sexual history.

This means the defence barrister can’t ask you questions about your sexual behaviour without getting permission from the judge beforehand. The judge will only grant permission to do this in very specific circumstances where the evidence would be relevant to the case and we will always have notice of this before trial.

If the judge gives the defendant’s lawyers permission to ask these kinds of questions, we will let you know this in advance and answer any questions you may have.

During the trial, the judge will continue to monitor the questions that the defendant’s barrister is asking – if at any point the judge thinks a question is inappropriate, they won’t allow it to be asked. If we think a question is inappropriate, we can also object and ask the judge to stop it being asked.

A CPS prosecutor will review any new evidence that becomes available while they are preparing the case for trial. This could be new evidence uncovered by the police or new evidence provided by the defence team.

If new evidence means that the charges need to be changed or that the case needs to be stopped then the CPS prosecutor will change the charges or stop the case. If this happens our prosecutor will contact you to explain the reasons why we’ve had to make this decision.

If we decide that a case needs to be stopped then you have the right to ask for us to look at our decision again. This is called a Victims’ Right to Review – you can find out more about this process in our section on how we make decisions.

In some rare circumstances, it will not be possible for this review to be carried out before the case is stopped. For example, if the trial has already begun, we will only be able to stop the case by offering no evidence. This means that the defendant will be formally found not guilty and we will not be able to re-start the case again in future.

Between the first hearing and the trial date, the judge may set dates for ‘administrative hearings’.

These hearings are to check the progress of the case and make sure everything is going to be ready for trial day.

In the most complex Crown Court cases, the judge may plan a ‘further trial preparation hearing’. This is because these cases are complicated, often with lots of evidence to sort through, so it can be helpful to have another opportunity to review the timetable for the trial to help make sure it can go ahead on time.

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