When a defendant doesn’t give evidence

Justice Malcolm Swift instructs jury

Evidence in the trial of Justin Ramoon took less than two days to present to a Grand Court jury last week. The charge was attempted murder, with an alternative of wounding with intent to cause serious bodily harm. The prosecution’s main witness was the complainant. The defendant did not give evidence nor did he call any evidence.

In his summing up on Wednesday, Justice Malcolm Swift explained to the jurors what views they might take of the situation, as follows:

The defendant has chosen not to give evidence in support of his defence. I need to explain to you how this is relevant to your consideration of the case.

You must remember, first of all, that the defendant has a perfect right not to give evidence, and to require the prosecution to prove its case. You cannot jump to the conclusion that his silence proves the case against him — it does not.

The burden remains on the prosecution to prove its case so that you are sure. However, the defendant’s silence is relevant to your consideration of the case in two respects:

First, there is no evidence before you capable of contradicting, undermining or explaining the evidence from the prosecution;

Second, his decision not to give evidence may, depending on your view, add weight to the Prosecution’s case.

It is open to you to conclude that the reason why the defendant has remained silent is that he has no answer to the prosecution case or none that would stand up to examination. In the witness box, if asked if he was the man who stabbed Mr. Lopez, he would not be able to make no comment.

The defendant chose not to give evidence, and it is open to you to reach a conclusion adverse to his case. It is your decision whether that is the fair and proper conclusion to reach.

It is one you should reach only if you regard the prosecution case as sufficiently strong to require an answer from the defendant and you are sure the only sensible explanation for his silence is his awareness that he has no answer or none that would bear examination.