The indictment is the formal document setting out all criminal charges against the defendant to be tried in the Crown Court.
The indictment begins with a heading containing the case’s unique reference number, the location of the Crown Court, and the name of all defendants. Importantly, each charge faced by the defendant is contained in a separate ‘count.’
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 Criminal Procedure Rules sets out the requirements for the form and content of the indictment. Each count must be divided into:
The indictment is normally drafted by the. 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.
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. There are four types of joinder: where two or more defendants are charged in one count; different defendants are charged in separate counts; different offences in different counts in one indictment; and defendants separately committed for trial.
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.
For two offences to belong to a series of similar offences there must be a ‘nexus’ between them. This means the offences must be similar both legally and factually, however, two offences do not form a series merely because evidence relating to one offence is uncovered during the investigation into the other.
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, they 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 the offences are sufficiently linked so that they can properly be joined.
The power to order separate trials of offences on an indictment is technically known as ‘serving the indictment.’ It is for the defendant to show that exceptional circumstances merit separate trials. Relevant considerations include:
If an indictment contains counts which should not be joined together because the rules for joinder are not satisfied, there is no power to sever the indictment. However, this ‘misjoinder’ can be remedied in either of two ways:
It is possible for counts to appear on an indictment in the alternative. For example, the indictment might contain one count alleging wounding with intent, and a separate count alleging unlawful wounding. This is appropriate where the prosecution is unsure whether there is sufficient evidence to prove the more serious offence. Nothing on the face of the indictment indicates that the counts are alternatives, so this fact must be explained to the jury.
Under s 5(1) of the Indictments Act 1915, where it appears to the court that the indictment is defective, the court has power to order amendment of the indictment as it thinks necessary to meet the circumstances of the case. However, it will not do so if it decides the required amendments cannot be made without injustice.
Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.
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