Advocacy tips for the Crown Court

Law Courts

You’ll need to take a more formal approach to advocacy in the Crown Court than in the magistrates’ court. The Crown Court demands a higher level of attention to detail, and the arguments and questioning of witnesses take a slower pace.

These tips will help you to prepare and present your brief. Taking time to prepare as thoroughly as you can will help you perform at your best. And when you’re presenting your case, remember to communicate in a concise and respectful way.

Read the brief

Always read your brief at least once without:

  • making annotations
  • preparing case plans
  • formulating theories

This includes defence documents prepared on your instructing solicitor’s behalf.

Analyse the evidence

  • Identify the issues by examining your case thoroughly from the indictment
  • Make sure there are no legal technicalities regarding the validity of the charge(s)
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case and deal with them in turn
  • Decide what you want to tell the jury in your closing speech, bearing in mind you’re simply trying to create an appearance of doubt

Decide on your cross-examination

You can design cross-examination questions word for word, or you can use bullet points for the areas you want to cover with your witness, expanding on these during the cross-examination. This can be more effective as it allows for flexibility when questioning your witness.

Some advocates draft their closing speech first. This helps them to focus the cross-examination on what they want to achieve in their closing speech.

Read more about cross-examination

Prepare the skeleton argument

This should be concise and aim to guide the judge through your oral submissions. If possible, try to draft skeleton arguments and written submissions throughout your preparation.

If you cite case law or statute, always add the reference in an appendix or a footnote for the judge to refer to. If citing case law, make sure there are copies of the full authority attached to your skeleton argument.

Read more about skeleton arguments

Anticipate the Crown’s case

Anticipating the prosecution’s case will help you think quickly if you need to.

Make sure you know:

  • what the Crown’s case is
  • how they’re putting their case together
  • the legal arguments they’re likely to present

If a piece of evidence is hearsay, think about how they could make it admissible before a jury and what gateway they would use under sections 114 or 116 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Focus on the strongest points of your argument

If you have five or six good points, pick the strongest three. Only complex cases are likely to need more. Too many points can weaken your argument and give the impression you’re inexperienced.

Once you’ve argued your strongest points, there’s no need to repeat them in different ways. The judge will have got your point the first time.

Be persistent but polite

You should be professional and assertive but remain polite. If the judge loses their temper, respond articulately and respectfully at a pace that is understood clearly.

For example, you could use “if I could seek your honour’s indulgence to address you on the point a little further that would perhaps assist the court in dealing with the matter promptly”.

Support your client

The Crown Prosecution Service website has information on going to court which explains what happens before, during and after the trial.