No case to answer in criminal law

When could there be a no case to answer?

Whenever a person is charged with an offence, pleads not guilty and appears on a trial for that offence, it is for the Prosecution to provide evidence that all elements of the offence have been committed as well as to prove that the Defendant is the person who committed them. Therefore, the burden of proof lies with them.

In the course of a trial, the Prosecution are the first ones to lay there evidence against the Defendant in essence of upholding the fundamental principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Up to that point the Defence have had the opportunity to put to proof such evidence and explore any inconsistencies. It is on the close of the Prosecution’s case that the Defence gets the opportunity to put forward their case and their version of events.

However, in certain circumstances there may be no need for the Defence call evidence in particular when the evidence for the Prosecution is insufficient. In those circumstances, an application can be made to the judge to withdraw a particular part or the full case from the jury.

It is important to note that such application could in theory be made before the close of the Prosecution case where both parties agree to that outcome. However, the correct time for making an application is when the Prosecution have closed their case.

On a rare number of occasions, the Court of Appeal has further recognised the possibility of a no case to answer application at the end of the case for the Defence.  

How the application is made?

A judge can consider application of the no case to answer upon submissions by the Defence. Whenever an application is put forward, it should be heard by the judge in absence of the jury in order not to prejudice or influence them. If an application has been rejected by the judge, then no mention of such taking place is to be made in front of the jury.

Therefore, insufficient evidence submissions operate on a voir dire basis, in the absence of the jury. Once the members of the jury have left the courtroom, the Defence Counsel makes a submission following which the Prosecution Counsel is given the opportunity to reply.

What are the test and the outcome? 

The test is for the judge to be satisfied that on the basis of the Prosecution’s evidence taken at its highest, no jury, if properly directed, could convict. If the judge is satisfied that such is the case, then he has the power to withdraw the case from the jury and direct the jury to acquit.

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For more information on:

  • What is the procedure on successful application?