Who is who in court?

Criminal proceedings in court are led by a judge. Most criminal cases are heard and decided by a single legally qualified judge. The most serious criminal cases are heard by a composition consisting of a legally qualified judge and lay judges. A criminal case may also be heard by a panel of two or three legally qualified judges, if the matter is particularly complex or there are other special reasons for this.

The parties to criminal proceedings are the victim of the crime (i.e. the injured party) if he or she has claims, the accused (i.e. the defendant), and the prosecutor, who will present the charge. In addition, witnesses are often heard in order to resolve the case.

As a defendant in court

The defendant is informed of the charge when he or she is served with a summons. The summons is issued either by the court or the prosecutor.

In the summons, the defendant is urged to respond to the claims presented against him or her. The defendant is often summoned to appear in the court, but in some cases the defendant may be requested to submit a written response to the charge already before the trial.

In the trial, at the latest, the defendant is inquired whether he or she admits or denies having committed the offence with which he or she is being charged. The defendant's views on the injured party's claims for damages are also inquired.

As an injured party in court

If the injured party has claims for damages, he or she may request the prosecutor to present them in court. The prosecutor may pursue a claim for damages on the injured party's behalf, if the matter is simple and straightforward and an invoice, a receipt or another written account of the claim has been submitted to the prosecutor.

If the injured party pursues a claim for damages himself or herself, the claim may be either submitted to the court in writing before the trial or presented in the trial.

The injured party may be summoned to appear before the court in person, if his or her presence is necessary for resolving the case. In this case, the injured party is entitled to receive compensation for his or her travel expenses and loss of income.

Obligation to appear before the court

The court or the prosecutor summons the parties to the trial (main hearing). The parties should read the summons carefully, because it contains information on whether the party must appear in court in person or whether he or she may be represented by a legal counsel. It is also stated in the summons whether the case may be decided in the absence of the party.

As a witness in court

As a rule, everyone is obliged to tell the court what they know about the offence being considered. There are, however, certain exceptions to the general obligation to testify. A close relative of the defendant, for example, has the right to refuse to testify.

A person who has been called as a witness must, however, always appear before the court, even if it would later turn out that he or she does not need to testify. If necessary, the chairperson of the court informs a witness about his or her right to refuse to testify.

First, the witness makes an affirmation. After that, the witness tells what he or she knows about the case. The parties to the case and the court may present questions to the witness.

Witnesses must always tell the truth. A witness who lies or consciously conceals a pertinent circumstance may be accused of giving a false statement. The punishment for giving a false statement in court is usually imprisonment.

Witnesses are entitled to receive compensation for their travel expenses and loss of income.