Victims' Guide - The first hearing in the Crown Court: The Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing
The Crown Court deals with the most serious criminal cases. Each case is overseen by a judge who is responsible for setting out the timetable in the case, making a judgement on any legal questions (such as whether certain types of evidence can be used) and sentencing the defendant if they are convicted.
If a case goes to trial it will be heard by a jury. The jury is made up of 12 members of the public who are selected randomly from the electoral roll. In a Crown Court, the jury decides whether the defendant is ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’.
You have the right under the Victims' Code to be given information about the trial and the trial process.
The first hearing at Crown Court is called the ‘Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing’ or PTPH. At this hearing, the court clerk will read out the list of offences the defendant has been charged with (the indictment) and asks the defendant to plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. This process is called arraignment.
Any member of the public can attend any hearing in a criminal court.
If the defendant pleads ‘guilty’ to all the charges, the judge can either sentence the defendant straight away or they can postpone (adjourn) the sentencing hearing to ask for more information to help them decide what the sentence should be.
This can include a ‘pre-sentence’ report, written by the probation service, which provides an independent assessment of the offender and the risks they pose.
We will also provide the court with your ‘Victim Personal Statement’ if you have written one. The police will ask you if you’d like to write one during the investigation - this is your opportunity to explain how the crime has impacted you.
If you would like to read your ‘Victim Personal Statement’ out loud to the court, then we can apply to the court for you to do this. Otherwise, the prosecutor will read it out to the court for you. If you read your ‘victim personal statement’ to the court yourself, you are entitled to special measures to do so. You can find more in our section What support is available to help you give your evidence.
The judge will then use that information to decide what sentence the defendant will receive in line with the sentencing guidelines for the offence they’ve been convicted of.
Sentencing guidelines are set by the Sentencing Council in line with UK law.
If the defendant pleads ‘guilty’ to some of the charges but ‘not guilty’ to others, the CPS prosecutor will have to decide whether or not to accept the ‘guilty’ pleas.
They also need to decide what action to take on the charges to which the defendant has pleaded ‘not guilty’.
The prosecutor has two options:
1. They can either ‘offer no evidence’ for the charges to which the defendant has pleaded ‘not guilty’ or they can ask for these charges to ‘lie on file’. If we offer no evidence this means that the court has accepted a ‘not guilty’ verdict for those charges and we cannot take further action on them. If we think the charges should lie on file we need to ask for the judge’s permission to do this. Charges that lie on file could technically be restarted at a later date but this is very rare. The judge will then sentence the defendant only for the charges to which the defendant has pleaded ‘guilty’.
2. They can ask for the charges to which the defendant has pleaded ‘not guilty’ be listed for trial. The defendant won’t be sentenced for any charges until after the trial has happened.
To make this decision the prosecutor has to consider a number of factors which are set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Attorney General’s guidance on accepting pleas.
This includes whether the court would be able to give the defendant a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the crimes we have charged them with. For example, if a defendant pleaded ‘guilty’ to a more minor offence like theft but ‘not guilty’ to a more serious offence like rape then the sentence the court could give them would not reflect the seriousness of the crimes we charged them with. If we don’t think the court would be able to give the defendant an appropriate sentence then we will ask for the remaining charges to be listed for trial.
Where possible we will take your views as the victim into account to help us decide whether it is in the public interest to accept the plea.
If the defendant pleads ‘not guilty’ to all the charges the judge will set a date for the trial.