What is an indictment?

The indictment is the formal document which sets out the charge(s) to be tried in the Crown Court.

What does an indictment contain?

The indictment begins with a heading, which contains a unique reference number for the case, identifies the location of the Crown Court and the name of the defendant(s). Each charge faced by the defendant is contained in a separate ‘count.’ 

What does a count contain?

Section 3(1) of the Indictments Act 1915 provides that the indictment must contain ‘a statement of the specific offence or offences with which the accused person is charged, together with such particulars as may be necessary for giving reasonable information as to the nature of the charge.’ The form and content of the indictment is governed by r.14.2 of the Criminal Procedure Rules and each count must contain:

  • A statement of the offence charged that describes the offence in ordinary language and identifies any legislation that creates it; and
  • Such particulars of conduct constituting the commission of the offence as to make clear what the prosecutor alleges against the defendant.
Each count is therefore divided into two parts:
  1. The ‘Statement of Offence,’ which sets out the name of the offence and, where the offence is a statutory one, the statutory provision which creates the offence. 
  2. The ‘Particulars of Offence,’ giving factual information about the charge; this must disclose the essential elements of the offence.

Who draws up the indictment?

The indictment is normally drafted by the Crown Prosecution Service. Where there is more than one defendant, the order in which the names of defendants are placed on an indictment is the responsibility of the prosecutor, who has a discretion as to that order. 

Joinder of counts

Rule 14.2(3) of the Criminal Procedure Rules provides that an indictment may contain more than one count if all the offences charged:

  • Are founded on the same facts; or
  • Form or are part of a series of offences of the same or a similar character.

Founded on the same facts

Two offences are founded on the same facts if they arise from a single incident or are part of the same ‘transaction.’ One offence can also arise from the same facts as another if one would not have been committed but for the other. 

Series of similar offences

For two offences to belong to a series of similar offences there must be a ‘nexus’ between them. For a nexus to exist, the offences must be similar both legally and factually. It should be noted that two offences do not form a series merely because evidence relating to one offence is uncovered during the investigation into the other.

Joinder of defendants

A count in an indictment can name more than one defendant if it is alleged that there was more than one participant. Where one person aided and abetted the other, he or she can either be charged specifically with aiding and abetting the offence, or as a principle. In practice, secondary participants are usually charged as principle offenders. It is also permissible to join defendants in an indictment even if the defendants are not charged with the same offence, provided that the offences are sufficiently linked so that they can properly be joined under r14.2(3).

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For more information on:

  • Discretion to order separate trials
  • Misjoinder
  • Alternative counts
  • Amending the indictment