Fraud is an either-way offence in England and Wales, meaning a trial can take place at either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. It depends on the severity of the alleged offence(s). Here we explain what you can expect during a fraud trial.
Fraud Trial Procedures
Have you been accused of fraud or other financial crimes? Contact us now at Ashmans Solicitors. Our fraud and financial crime solicitors can represent you throughout proceedings, including at trial. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You’ve been charged with fraud – what happens next?
When you are charged with a criminal offence such as fraud, you will be given a date to attend a Magistrates’ Court for a hearing.
If you have not already instructed a fraud solicitor, then now is the time to do so. Our fraud and financial crime solicitors represent clients across England and Wales. We are a leading law firm and have a proven track record of successfully defending financial crime offences.
You may or may not be remanded in custody until the court hearing. You will probably be put on remand if:
- You have been charged with serious fraud offences
- You have been convicted of a serious crime in the past
- The police think you may not go to your court hearing
- The police think you may commit another crime while on bail
- You have been given bail before and not stuck to the terms
What happens at the Magistrates’ Court?
On the day of the Magistrates’ Court hearing, you must make your own way to court by the allotted time. Or, if you have been remanded in custody, you will be taken to court in a secure van. You will be taken to the dock and asked to confirm your name and address. Then, you will be asked whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty.
In front of you will either be sat a District Judge. Or there will be two/three magistrates and a legal adviser. Magistrates are lay people who have been given training as to how to conduct a court case. The legal adviser sits alongside them to help them with points of law.
Regardless of your plea, the magistrates/District Judge must then decide whether your case should continue in the Magistrates’ Court, or whether it should be allocated to the Crown Court. Fraud is an either-way offence. This means it can be heard in either the lower courts or the higher courts. Ultimately, it all depends on the circumstances. Defrauding someone of £100 is not the same as committing a £2 million property fraud, for example. The former would likely be dealt with by the Magistrates’ Court while the latter would likely be dealt with by the Crown Court.
The magistrates/District Judge must make their decision based on the Sentencing Council’s allocation guideline. The main consideration is whether the magistrates/District Judge would have sufficient sentencing powers. The Magistrates’ Court cannot send people to prison for more than 12 months. So, if a conviction would likely result in a longer prison sentence, the case must be sent to the Crown Court.
What happens if you plead guilty to fraud?
If you plead guilty at the Magistrates’ Court, then your sentence must be decided. If you committed a minor fraud offence, your case will stay at the Magistrates’ Court. The magistrates or District Judge who heard your case will consider the facts and determine an appropriate sentence. There are a wide range of sentencing options available, including a fine, custodial sentence, suspended sentence and community order. If you are given a custodial sentence, you will be taken straight to prison.
What happens if you plead not guilty to fraud?
If you plead not guilty to fraud, there will be a trial. As outlined above, your case will either remain at the Magistrates’ Court, or it will be allocated to the Crown Court. If you are told that your case will remain at the Magistrates’ Court, you can elect to have a trial by jury at the Crown Court instead. This can be preferable, as many legal experts say it is the fairest method of reaching a decision. Conviction rates are also lower at the Crown Court than at the Magistrates’ Court. This is something we can discuss with you, should the question arise in your fraud case.
Crown Court is a much more formal setting than the Magistrates’ Court. There is almost always a jury which is made up of 12 lay people. They are chosen at random from the electoral register, meaning you can have a wide mix of genders and ethnicities. There will also be a judge who will manage your trial. The judge does things such as decides whether evidence is admissible, objects to misleading questions, and advises the jury on their responsibilities.
What happens at a fraud trial?
Fraud trials vary slightly depending on whether they are held at the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. The rest of this article will focus on fraud trials at the Crown Court. You can read more about what happens at a Magistrates’ Court in this article: What to Expect When You Go to Court.
Preparing for a fraud trial
The first thing to know is that a lot of work takes place before the trial actually begins. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prepares their prosecution, while your fraud solicitor prepares your defence. There can be a number of hearings before the trial to determine what evidence can be heard. For example, the police may have obtained evidence during an illegal search of your property. If so, our fraud solicitors would argue that this evidence is inadmissible, meaning it should not be used in a court of law.
Fraud trials heard at the Crown Court
On the first day of the fraud trial, you will be seated in the dock. The judge enters the courtroom and everyone stands up until told to sit down. You will be asked to confirm your name, address and plea. Unless you change your plea to guilty, the jury is sworn in and given directions by the judge.
The prosecution will then present their case. The prosecution always goes first during a criminal trial. Various pieces of evidence will be presented to the court. The exact details depend on the facts of your case, but could include:
- CCTV or video footage
- Information retrieved from your bank statements, accounts and other documents
- Your police interview tape
- Your witness statement
Witnesses may also be called to the dock to give evidence. Your barrister or solicitor can cross-examine each witness once the prosecution has finished questioning them. Witnesses must wait outside the court until called to give evidence. Afterwards they are allowed to watch the remainder of the trial from the public gallery if they want.
Once the prosecution has concluded their case, it is the turn of the defence. Your solicitor or barrister will present their own evidence. They may also call witnesses, which may or may not include yourself. The prosecution can cross-examine the witnesses if they choose to do so.
Finally, once all the evidence has been heard, both the prosecution and the defence make a closing speech.
How long does a fraud trial take?
This is a very simplistic overview of the steps taken during a fraud trial. In reality, presenting all the evidence during a fraud trial can take weeks, sometimes even months. A fraud trial at a High Court in Glasgow once heard evidence for 320 days, making it the longest criminal trial in UK history. Although your fraud trial may not take quite this long, it is good to prepare yourself for a lengthy process. How long does DWP investigation take?
Returning the verdict
A fraud trial at the Crown Court means that the jury decides whether you are guilty or not. After the closing remarks, the judge will summarise the legal points that need to be considered. The jury will then retire to consider the verdict. There is no telling how long this will take – it could be hours, days or even weeks. When the jury is ready, everyone returns to court. You will be asked to stand and the foreman of the jury will state whether you have been found guilty or not guilty.
Because it is a criminal trial, the prosecution must have proven your guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This is the burden of proof required in all criminal cases. If the prosecution has failed to achieve this, then you must be found not guilty.
Sentencing for fraud
If you are found not guilty, then the case is over and you are free to leave.
If you are found guilty, a judge must decide your sentence. This is an important point: juries only decide if you are guilty or not guilty; judges are the ones who decide what punishment to hand out. The judge makes their decision based on the Sentencing Guidelines for fraud. The maximum penalty available for fraud is 10 years’ imprisonment. However, this is reserved for the most egregious of cases. Other sentencing options include:
- An unlimited fine
- A community order
- A compensation order
Once you have been convicted, the prosecution may then pursue POCA proceedings against you. POCA stands for Proceeds of Crime Act. This may result in the court issuing a Confiscation Order, where assets gained via illegal means are seized and given to the government.
Appealing your fraud conviction and/sentence
You can appeal your fraud conviction or sentence, if you have reasonable grounds to do so. This might be because the court erred in a matter of law, or your sentence is unduly harsh. We can advise you about an appeal in more detail, should you be convicted of fraud or another financial crime.
Criminal proceedings vs. Civil proceedings
Sometimes where fraud is alleged, the victim will pursue civil proceedings against the defendant. This is entirely separate to any criminal proceedings. The two cases can run concurrently. The legal test is different for civil proceedings, as the Claimant only has to prove their case on the balance of probabilities. If the Claimant is successful, the court may order you to pay the victim damages. However, this does not mean that you will definitely be found guilty at a criminal trial. As mentioned above, the two are entirely separate.
Speak to our fraud solicitors – England and Wales
We understand that a fraud trial is a scary prospect. When you instruct our fraud solicitors, you benefit from our support and guidance throughout the whole process. We are experts in this area of law and know how to get a positive outcome on your behalf.
Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.