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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In law, a trial is when parties to a dispute come together to present information (in the form of evidence) in a formal setting, usually a court, before a judge, jury, or other designated finder of fact, in order to achieve a resolution to their dispute.


Types of trial divided by the finder of fact

  • Where the trial is held before a group of members of the community, it is called a jury trial.
  • Where the trial is held solely before a judge, it is called a bench trial. Bench trials involve fewer formalities, and are typically resolved faster. Furthermore, a favorable ruling for one party in a bench trial will frequently lead the other party to offer a settlement.

Hearings before administrative bodies may have many of the features of a trial before a court, but are typically not referred to as trials.

An appellate proceeding is also generally not deemed a trial, because such proceedings are usually restricted to review of the evidence presented before the trial court, and do not permit the introduction of new evidences.

Types of trial divided by the type of dispute

Trials can also be divided by the type of dispute at issue.


Criminal trial

A criminal trial is designed to resolve accusations brought by the government against a person accused of a crime. In common law systems, most criminal defendants are entitled to a trial held before a jury. Because the state is attempting to use its power to deprive the accused of life, liberty, or property, criminal defendants are afforded greater leeway to defend themselves than parties to a civil suit.

Civil trial

A civil trial is generally held to settle a dispute between private parties. In some countries, the government can both sue and be sued in a civil capacity.

Administrative hearing and trial

Although administrative hearings are not ordinarily considered trials, they retain many elements found in more "formal" trial settings. When the dispute goes to judicial setting, it is called an administrative trial, to review the administrative hearing, depending on the jurisdiction. The types of disputes handled in these hearings is goverened by administrative law and auxiliarily by the civil trial law.

Labor trial

Labor law (also known as employment law) is the body of laws, administrative rulings, and precedents which address the legal rights of, and restrictions on, working people and their organizations. As such, it mediates many aspects of the relationship between trade unions, employers and employees. In Canada, employment laws related to unionized workplaces are differentiated from those relating to particular individuals. In most countries however, no such distinction is made. However, there are two broad categories of labour law. First, collective labour law relates to the tripartite relationship between employee, employer and union. Second, individual labour law concerns employees' rights at work and through the contract for work. The labour movement has been instrumental in the enacting of laws protecting labour rights in the 19th and 20th centuries. Labour rights have been integral to the social and economic development since the industrial revolution.


The form of the trial

There are two primary systems for conducting a trial:

  • Adversarial: In common law systems, an adversarial or accusatory approach is used to adjudicate guilt or innocence. The assumption is that the truth is more likely to emerge from the open contest between the prosecution and the defense in presenting the evidence and opposing legal arguments with a judge acting as a neutral referee and as the arbiter of the law. In several jurdictions in more serious cases, there is a jury to determine the facts. although some common law jurisdictions have abolished the jury trial. This polarizes the issues, with each competitor acting in its own self-interest, and so presenting the facts and interpretations of the law in a deliberately biased way. The intention is that through a process of argument and counter-argument, examination-in-chief and cross-examination, each side will test the truthfulness, relevancy, and sufficiency of the opponent's evidence and arguments. To maintain fairness, there is a presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof lies on the prosecution. Critics of the system argue that the desire to win is more important than the search for truth. Further, the results are likely to be affected by structural inequalities. Those defendants with resources can afford to hire the best lawyers. Some trials are—or were—of a more summary nature, as certain questions of evidence were taken as resolved (see handhabend and backberend).
  • Inquisitorial: In civil law legal systems, the responsibility for supervising the investigation by the police into whether a crime has been committed falls on an examining magistrate or judge who then conducts the trial. The assumption is that the truth is more likely to emerge from an impartial and exhaustive investigation both before and during the trial itself. The examining magistrate or judge acts as an inquisitor who directs the fact-gathering process by questioning witnesses, interrogating the suspect, and collecting other evidence. The lawyers who represent the interests of the State and the accused have a limited role to offer legal arguments and alternative interpretations to the facts that emerge during the process. All the interested parties are expected to co-operate in the investigation by answering the magistrate or judge's questions and, when asked, supplying all relevant evidence. The trial only takes place after all the evidence has been collected and the investigation is completed. Thus, most of the factual uncertainties will already be resolved, and the examining magistrate or judge will already have resolved that there is prima facie of guilt. Critics argue that the examining magistrate or judge has too much power in that he or she will both investigate and adjudicate on the merits of the case. Although lay assessors do sit as a form of jury to offer advice to the magistrate or judge at the conclusion of the trial, their role is subordinate. Further, because a professional has been in charge of all aspects of the case to the conclusion of the trial, there are fewer opportunities to appeal the conviction alleging some procedural error.

Also see Hung jury.


A judge may cancel a trial prior to the return of a verdict; legal parlance designates this as a mistrial.

A judge may declare a mistrial due to:

  • The court determining that it lacks jurisdiction over a case,
  • Evidence being admitted improperly,
  • Misconduct by a party, juror, or an outside actor, if it prevents due process,
  • A hung jury which cannot reach a verdict with the required degree of unanimity
  • Disqualification of a juror after the jury is impanelled, if no alternate juror is available and the litigants do not agree to proceed with the remaining jurors.

A declaration of a mistrial generally means that the court must hold a retrial on the same subject.

An important exception occurs in criminal cases in the United States. If the court erroneously declares a mistrial, or if prosecutorial misconduct forced the defendant into moving for a mistrial, then the US Constitution's protection against double jeopardy bars any retrial; so the prosecution must be terminated.

Other kinds of trials

Some other kinds of processes for resolving conflicts are also expressed as trials. For example, the United States Constitution requires that, following the impeachment of the President, a judge, or another federal officer by the House of Representatives, the subject of the impeachment may only be removed from office by a trial in the Senate.

In earlier times disputes were often settled through a trial by ordeal, where parties would have to endure physical suffering in order to prove their righteousness; or through a trial by combat, in which the winner of a physical fight was deemed righteous in their cause.

See also


Sadakat Kadri, The Trial: A History, from O.J. Simpson (Random House, 2005)

External links

Source material

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The Trial
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TRIAL, in English law, the hearing by a court of first instance of the issues of fact and law involved in a civil or criminal cause. The term is inappropriate to rehearing by an appellate court. Trial follows upon the completion of the steps necessary to bring the parties before the court and to adjust the issues upon which the court is to adjudicate, which may be summed up in the term pleading. In England the trial is usually in open court, and it is rare to try cases in camera, or to attempt to exclude the public from the hearing. The essential part of the trial is that there should be full opportunity to both sides for evidence and argument on the questions in dispute. At present in England, as distinguished from the rest of Europe, the evidence is ordinarily taken viva voce in court, and affidavits and depositions are sparingly accepted, whereas under the XXVII. 9 continental system the bulk of the proofs in civil cases are reduced to writing before the hearing.

The modes of trial have altered with legal development in English as in Roman law (see Action). Many forms of trial, notably those by ordeal, by wager of battle or of law (see Ordeal and Wager), and by grand assize, have become obsolete, and new forms have been created by legislation in order to meet altered circumstances of society. Up to a very recent date the tendency of the Roman and English systems was in opposite directions. In the former and in systems founded on it, such as the Scottish and French, trial by the judge became the rule, in the latter trial by judge and jury. In England the method of trial of issues of fact arising under the common law was by jury and a bench of judges. In truth the trials were the sittings of commissioners sent to inquire and report with the aid of the neighbourhood on questions of crime and civil wrongs in a county; the practice is summed up in the old phrase ad quaestionem juris judices respondeant, ad quaestionem facti juratores. In courts which administered equity or derived their law or procedure from the civil or canon law no jury was used, and the judges determined both law and fact. The system of trial before a full bench of judges even with a jury is now used on the European continent, but has been superseded in England by trial before a single judge with a jury except in the rare cases of trial at bar. This latter mode of trial is a survival of the mode universal in the superior courts before the writ of nisi Arius, and is now only used in the king's bench division, when claimed by the Crown as of right or in cases of unusual importance and difficulty. Recent instances are the trial in 1904 of Arthur Lynch for treason in South Africa, and in 1905 of questions raised on a petition of right in respect of a claim to make the Crown responsible on the conquest of the Transvaal for acts of the Transvaal government before or during the war.

The necessity for trial by jury has been removed in many cases by legislation and rules of court (see Jury; Summary Jurisdiction), and the present English practice is summarized in the following statement.

In the High Court of Justice in England and Ireland several modes of trial are now used: I. Trial by judge with a jury used in the king's bench division and in probate and matrimonial cases. There is a right to have a jury as a matter of course in actions of defamation, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, seduction and breach of promise of marriage. In other cases, subject to exceptions to be noted, a jury can be obtained on the application of either party.

2. Trial by a judge without a jury is invariable in the chancery division and now common in the other divisions. Cases in the chancery division are not tried with a jury unless a special order is made (Ord. 36, r. 3); and the High Court in cases in which trial without jury could be ordered without consent (1875) still retains the power of so trying them, and has also acquired power to direct trial without a jury of any issue requiring prolonged examination of documents or accounts or scientific or local investigation.

3. Trial with assessors, usual in admiralty cases (the assessors being nautical) but rare in other divisions.

4. Trial by an official referee in certain cases involving much detail (R.S.C.O. 36). In the county court the ordi:iary mode of trial is by the judge alone, but a jury of eight is allowed in certain cases on application, and in the admiralty jurisdiction marine assessors can be called in. In other local civil courts the trial is often by jury, as in the mayor's court of London, sometimes without, as in the vice-chancellor's court of the university of Oxford. In all civil cases the parties can by a proper submission have a trial before an arbitrator selected by or for them. As regards criminal cases the right to trial by due process of law before condemnation is given by art. 29 of Magna Carta; and the trial must be by jury unless a statute otherwise provides (see Court-Martial; Summary Jurisdiction). The parties may be represented by lawyers, solicitor or counsel or both, according to the court, in county courts by accredited lay agents, or may conduct their case in person. The trial is carried on by stating to the court the pleadings if any and by opening the plaintiff's case. This is followed by the evidence of the witnesses, who are sworn and examined and cross-examined. On the completion of the plaintiff's case and evidence, the defendant's case is stated and evidence adduced in support of it. The plaintiff or his lawyer has as a rule the reply or last word, though in some courts, described as single speech courts, no reply is given. At the conclusion the judge sums up the law and facts of the case to the jury, if there is one, and their verdict is returned, or if there is no jury gives judgment, stating his conclusions on the law and facts involved.

There remain certain modes of trial not obsolete but rarely used. Such are impeachment of the House of Commons before the House of Lords; and in the case of a charge of treason or felony by a person having privilege of peerage, trial on indictment before the House of Lords, or in vacation before the court of the lord high steward. Trials by certificate, by inspection and by record, are obsolete.

The decisions on a trial at first instance are reviewed by appeal (q.v.), or in trial cases heard before a jury by application for a new trial, where the judge has not directed the jury correctly as to the law or has permitted them to consider inadmissible evidence, or the jurors have in their verdict acted without evidence or against the weight, i.e. the quality not the quantity of the evidence. Under the Criminal Appeal Act 1907 the decisions in criminal trials on indictment, whether on matters of law or of fact or on mixed questions of law or fact, are reviewable by the court of criminal appeal; but that court has no power to order a retrial of the case before a jury.


Jury trial was introduced into Scotland for certain classes of civil cases in the 19th century but is not much used. In criminal cases it is used where summary jurisdiction has not been conferred.


The law of Ireland as to trials is in substance the same as in England, except as to appeals in criminal cases.

United States

In the United States the system of trial is that of the English common law as varied by Federal and state legislation.

(W. F. C.)

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Simple English

A trial is where 2 groups of people argue in a court.

In a civil trial, there is a plaintiff and a defendant. The plaintiff tries to prove that the defendant should give him money.

In a criminal trial, there's a prosecutor and a defendant. The prosecutor works for the government and tries to prove that the defendant committed a crime. It often takes a long time to get a trial scheduled as the courts can be very busy. Federal court can take up to 10 months to get a court date. Big court cases can take up to a few years as the two sides gather information and put together their cases.

The judge contols the courtroom. They decide who speaks when, and they decide what evidence and arguments can be used. Sometimes a jury in brought in to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If there is no jury, the judge decides whether the defendent has been proven guilty or not. If the defendent has been proven guilty of the crime, the judge will decide the punishment, which is also called the sentence. If the crime is serious, the defendant may go to prison or, in some countries, be executed. For smaller crimes, there is often a fine - money must be paid, in addition to having a criminal record.


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