How can I be prosecuted when ‘there is no evidence?’

Written 18th June 2020 by Alex Close-Claughton

This is a commonly asked question by clients charged with an offence where a complainant has made an allegation but there is no supporting evidence. This most often occurs in domestic violence cases, but it can occur in any case where a complainant is able to identify the suspect.

There may be no forensic evidence, no camera footage, no witnesses or anything else that supports what the complainant has said.  In many circumstances, a supportive complainant (or victim) is all that is required to bring a charge.

Evidence of the complainant

A complainant is considered a witness to the offence that has been committed against them. Their account of what they say happened is their ‘evidence’ and it is for a court to decide whether it believes beyond reasonable doubt that the complainant is telling the truth or that the defendant is guilty.

It is hard to argue against the rationale for charging in these circumstances. The risk that genuine victims are placed in further danger of attack from a suspect, who has been released from the police station without charge, is too great to ignore. Protecting victims of crime and preventing further crime is a vital function of the judicial system and it is important that this function be maintained. However there are occasions where complainants are not genuine victims and allegations are either false or exaggerated.

What is reassuring for defendants is that whilst a signed statement from a complainant is enough for a charge, it is not necessarily  enough to secure a conviction. The complainant must be able to convince the jury or magistrates that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. To do this without supporting evidence can be an uphill struggle.

How is the complainant’s evidence given to the court?

The usual process is that the complainant attends court on the trial date and gives their evidence by answering questions asked by the prosecution lawyer. Complainants then must face the questions or ‘cross examination’ of the defending solicitor or barrister. The defendant will also be given a chance to put forward their side of the story but must face cross-examination by the prosecutor.

How can such evidence be challenged?

A defence lawyer adept at cross-examination is often able to expose false accounts given by complainants. However, in these cases, the defendant’s account takes on greater importance. It is helpful in securing an acquittal if a defendant is able to give a coherent and reliable alternative account. If the defence is able to introduce some element of doubt into the minds of the jury or the magistrates, they are well placed to secure an acquittal.

Having said this it is important for defendants to take cases where ‘there is no evidence’ seriously. A complainant who comes across well to the court – when combined with a defendant who is unable to effectively put across his defence – can often be enough for a defendant to be convicted.

Many defendants don’t understand the nature of the case against them and believe that it is unfair that they can be charged when there is only a statement from the complainant. What is important to understand is that the complainants account is evidence and can be used to prosecute defendants. Prosecutions with no supporting evidence and a well-represented defendant are less likely to succeed when compared with cases with significant supporting evidence, but there is always a possibility that there will be a conviction.

Alex Close-Claughton

Alex Close-Claughton



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