The Rights of Defendants
Your rights when accused of a crime
One of the most important ideals of our justice system is the idea that anyone is “innocent until proven guilty”. No one should be punished for a crime until it is proven in a court of law that they were responsible, regardless of the severity of the crime and the opinions of those following the case.
Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) gives the right to a fair trial to everyone prosecuted under UK law. The various rights provided under this article should ensure that any defendant faces a fair outcome during a prosecution case.
Right to a Fair Trial
Some of the minimum rights afforded to defendants during trial are more obvious than others. The presumption of innocence, for example, is to be expected. This means that the “Burden of Proof” is on the prosecution, who must prove that the defendant is guilty.
The defendant has the right to ensure that there is no manner of interference from the outside, by the public or by the media.
As in other human rights matters that rely on privacy, the rights afforded to a defendant must be balanced against the media’s right to freedom of speech.
If there is concern that media reporting could affect the outcome of the trial and render it unfair in some way, the media’s involvement in reporting the case can be limited by the court.
For example, a court order can be issued which prevents the media from mentioning certain aspects of the defendant’s life and history, if it is felt that widespread knowledge of these facts would colour the impartiality of the jurors.
Above all, the goal of Article 6 is to ensure that justice comes first.
Allowing a Defendant to Defend
There are a number of other rights given by Article 6 of the ECHR, mainly concerned with making sure that a defendant can adequately defend him or herself, or seek the legal counsel to ensure a competent defence.
For example, every defendant should be given sufficient time to prepare their defence, and is entitled to the guidance of legal counsel in the form of a solicitor. This means that even if the defendant cannot afford to pay for his or her own legal representation, they could be provided with representation by the court.
The defendant also has the right to fully understand the charges brought against him or her. This requires the defendant to be fully informed of the crime that he or she is accused of and why he or she has been charged for it, in a manner that he or she can easily understand.
The right to a fair trial also makes allowances for defendants who may not be fluent in English. If the defendant needs assistance to understand the language being used, an interpreter will be provided, at no cost to the defendant.
The defendant’s rights also extend to sentencing. If a defendant is found guilty on any counts, the sentence that he or she receives will take into account the defendant’s history and the circumstances of the crimes, not just the crime itself.
Depending on these other factors, this could work in the defendant’s favour – after all, a defendant’s law-abiding history will make the judge more likely to show mercy in sentencing. By the same token, a defendant convicted of grievous bodily harm is more likely to receive a short sentence if he or she was acting in self defence, compared to a deliberate aggressor.
The Right of Appeal
If the defendant feels that their sentence or conviction was unjust, they have the option of appealing at the magistrate’s court. The defendant has 21 days from the giving of the sentence to appeal against their sentence and conviction.
Do note, however, that a defendant can only appeal against conviction if they pleaded “not guilty”. A defendant that has already pleaded guilty can only appeal against their sentence.
The defendant is entitled to legal representation once again. The appeal will be similar to the original trial, as the defendant’s legal counsel will present their evidence again to the magistrates’ court. If the appeal is just against the sentence, the evidence doesn’t need to be re-presented.
Once the rehearing is completely, the court (comprised of a judge and two magistrates) will make their decision as to whether the conviction should be overturned, or if the sentence should be changed.
Be careful when deciding to appeal a sentence – if the appeal fails, you may find yourself responsible for paying any extra court costs, including the cost of the prosecution. If the magistrates’ court sees fit, they may even increase the sentence.
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The Human Rights Act 1998 is the main piece of legislation that regulates actions regarding the infringement of the human rights laws in place.Find out more
The main majority of human rights in the UK come from the European Convention on Human Rights, which became part of the UK law in 1998.Find out more
Human rights are those rights that every individual on the planet is entitled to. Human rights are granted to every living individual of the human race.Find out more