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Trial process

Overview of the process

1. The trial process requires the prosecution to bring evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a defendant committed the alleged offence. It is not for the defendant to prove that s/he did not commit the offence as a defendant is presumed innocent until proved guilty.

2. Different offences have varying elements which must be proved, and the evidence required will vary accordingly. It is always essential to look closely at the wording of the offence to identify what the prosecution is required to prove.

3. It is also important to consider the ‘burden of proof’ and the ‘standard of proof’.

4. The burden of proof is normally on the prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty. However, in some offences 1, the burden may switch to the defence to prove (or disprove) at least some facts that are part of the offence or defence (a ‘reverse burden’).

5. The prosecution must prove the guilt of a defendant ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. However, a different standard of proof applies where the burden is on the defence. In that situation, the defence must discharge the burden ‘on the balance of probabilities’, which is the civil law standard and easier to satisfy.

6. The trial is the forum where the evidence is examined and the court considers whether it is sufficient to discharge (or satisfy) the burden of proof.

7. For further guidance, see Proving the offence.


  1. For example, where section 40 Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 applies.
Updated 2009-07-07