A comparison of the criminal justice system in England with that of the United States

Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to London, England, to observe its criminal justice system for a week. This trip was organized by the California State Bar Association. As a practicing criminal defense attorney in the United States, it was a wonderful experience observing three or four different English criminal courts. After several hours of observation, our group had the opportunity to visit the judge and attorneys for that session. Below you will find a comparison between the two systems.

1. What standard of proof is required before a formal charge is issued to a citizen??

Much like the United States, the standard in English for issuing a formal charge is “reasonable suspicion” that a crime or crime has occurred.

two. Generally speaking, how is a formal collection document issued??

Again, in a procedure very similar to that of the United States, it is the police and / or the Crown Prosecutor’s Office who draw up and issue a formal accusation document.

3. Does the accused have the right to a lawyer??

In both countries, yes.

Four. When is the accused informed of his right to a lawyer and at what stage of the process is he informed of a lawyer??

Upon arrest and before being questioned by the police, an English citizen is advised that he has the right to a lawyer. In essence, this procedure is virtually identical to the procedure in the United States for a “Miranda” warning.

5. Does a defendant in England have the right to examine the prosecution record (reports, witness statements, results of forensic examinations, etc.)?

Yes, and long before the trial.

6. Does a defendant in England have the right to a jury trial??

Yes, but not as liberally as in the United States. For a first offense, the maximum penalty an English citizen must face must be at least six (6) months in prison before being entitled to a jury trial. For a second offense, at least twelve (12) months in prison. Generally speaking, all misdemeanors and 30-day offenses (such as a DUI misdemeanor, etc.) do not grant or offer the defendant the right to a jury trial. All of these types of crimes are handled like bench trials before the judge.

7. Is a defendant presumed innocent in England during the course of the trial??


8. What is the general composition and conduct of a jury trial in England??

Generally, the jury is made up of twelve (12) members; however, during the course of the trial, the number of active jurors may be reduced to nine (9) and the case will continue until a verdict is rendered. English law allows a 10-2 or “supermajority” verdict, a unanimous verdict is not required. Rather, most criminal courts in the United States require a unanimous verdict.

9. Does the accused have the right to appeal??

Yes, but only because of an alleged error of law.

Some interesting information about the courts of appeal in England: Previously, all criminal appeals were referred to a specific subcommittee of the “House of Lords” for a decision. Only recently have specific appellate courts been created to handle criminal appeals. An appeals court does not have the ability to repeal or nullify a law, it can only interpret a law or make a recommendation to Parliament for a law to be rewritten. The highest court of appeals in England hears appeals from England, Wales and Northern Ireland in both civil and criminal matters. Scotland has maintained its own court of appeals for criminal appeals. The “Privy Council” is the last court of appeals available for all British republics (example: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, etc.). The “private council” is made up of the same judges that included the courts of appeal. English courts of appeal rarely meet “en banc”. Depending on the perceived importance of the matter to the general public, panels of five (5), seven (7) or nine (9) judges will hear oral arguments and decide the case. For the most part, it is a panel of three judges who hear and decide cases. The average oral discussion is around eight (8) hours per party.

10. What is the standard of proof required for a conviction in criminal court??

“Safe” is the current standard in England. Previously it was “beyond reasonable doubt” (as is the standard in the United States); but recently it was changed to “safe”.

Some generally interesting points of the English criminal justice system are:

  • “Wrongdoing or prior convictions are admissible as evidence of the current crime charged (example: an English defendant on trial for a second crime of shoplifting would have the first shoplifting conviction announced or published to the jury)
  • The English judiciary adopts the concept of “shared and complete responsibility” between various defendants. Similar to the concept in the United States of “the hand of one is the hand of all”. For the most part, English judges give similar sentences to each and every actor / conspirator and even those with a relatively minor role.
  • The trial judge accuses the jury of the law Y the facts with the jury and before deliberation. Clearly, this is a huge difference and difference from American courts. The English judges accuse the jury that the facts should be a general and balanced summary of both parties and a review of the key testimonies in a long trial.
  • English juries are individually given an evidence notebook for the trial.
  • English defendants generally sit together and “in the document” and not with their lawyers at the table during the trial.
  • All lawyers, judges and court clerks wear a wig and gown during proceedings in England.
  • Trial judges generally hold their rulings on evidentiary objections until after the attorneys meet and see if they can resolve the objections among themselves. Again, this is a major deviation in the way objections are handled in the United States. In general, judges in England rule on evidentiary issues much less frequently than their counterparts in the United States.
  • Jury selection is completely random and neither party may challenge a juror except “for good cause.” Basically, in the English court they just “spin the wheel” and take out the names. Jurors are only excused if there is a direct conflict and / or a very high level of “cause.” English juries can ask questions at various intervals during the trial when recognized by the court.
  • An “unwritten” rule is that English employers pay employees the standard wage while they are off jury duty.
  • Mandatory sentencing guidelines are present for most crimes in England, and the judge sentences the defendant with a guilty verdict.
  • An “attorney” generally has all contact with the client, conducts all legal research, and prepares legal memoranda and motions. Generally, the “lawyer” takes care of all trial preparation. An “attorney” is the attorney who actually appears as the lead attorney in court for the client. The “attorney” hires or hires the “attorney” and the “attorney” must pay the “attorney” for his services, regardless of whether the client pays the “attorney” or not.
  • In England it is very common for private lawyers to continually change roles within the system. Again, this is a major departure from American practice. The government may hire private attorneys and attorneys on a case-by-case basis to act as prosecutors. It is very common for private lawyers in England to serve as judges for one to two years and then return to private practice as solicitors or solicitors.
  • Finally, at the conclusion of the discovery process in England, both the prosecution and the defense have the mandate and the obligation to file a joint “case statement” with the court. This document is presented to the jury and contains all the points of agreement and stipulations that are present in the case. The “case statement” also specifically describes the points that are contested between the government and the defense. Neither party may vary from the agreed “case statement” presented to the court prior to the start of the trial.

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