What happens when there are multiple accused?

The process for a criminal case involving multiple accused is far more complex than that involving a single accused. The presence of other accused can make a difference at multiple stages of the process. It will significantly impact the way in which you ultimately defend the charge or charges at trial. This article outlines some of the ways in which cases involving multiple co-accused are different.


Delayed pre-trial proceedings

Quite often, the police will charge multiple accused but give them different initial hearing dates. So there might be 3 accused all going to court at different times. The lawyers might not even know, initially, that there are multiple co-accused. This can mean that your case gets listed on different dates to your co-accused.


Ultimately all the co-accused will need to be listed on the same date, so that they can all be listed for trial together. This can sometimes mean there are significant delays in your case, as the court waits for the other co-accused to be listed together with your case. The delays can be long because some accused may take longer to confirm they have received all of their disclosure, or may be dealing with other pre-trial applications, and your case gets adjourned whilst you wait for the co-accused to catch up to the stage that you are at.


Listing of a trial

The listing of your trial can be delayed, or occur at an inconvenient time, due to the presence of one or more co-accused. This is because the court must list a trial date that is suitable to each of the co-accused’s counsel, rather than just factoring in your own lawyer’s availability. This can cause a trial to be significantly delayed, which can particularly impact people remanded in custody awaiting trial.


The trial listing can be further delayed if, for instance, the State applies to lead evidence of ‘propensity evidence’ concerning one of your co-accused. This will require a separate pre-trial hearing, and the outcome of that can impact the length of your trial.


Further, and significantly, you might apply to have a separate trial to your co-accused. This often occurs where evidence relating to your co-accused is prejudicial or irrelevant to your case. This will require a separate hearing before a Judge, and possibly even an appeal if you are unsuccessful. This can cause significant delays in the listing of your trial.


The trial process

The trial process is very different in a case involving multiple co-accused. Firstly, the position the State chooses to place you on the indictment determines when your lawyer asks the witnesses questions. If you are named first, your lawyer goes first, and so forth. Your position on the indictment also determines when you must elect to give evidence. This can be a significant factor if, for instance, you are named first but the true ‘ringleader’ of a criminal offence is named second or third.


The presence of co-accused also significantly lengthens any trial, as every witness is questioned by multiple lawyers, and the jury is addressed by multiple lawyers, instead of just one. This can cause significant extra costs to any accused person.


Forensic decisions

There are many forensic decisions affected by the presence of multiple accused. For instance, the decision whether to give evidence. It is best to receive expert advice about such decisions.


Sentencing issues

In a sentencing case, the ‘parity’ principle says that generally, accused with similar circumstances and similar involvement in a crime should receive similar sentences. Accordingly, if you have pleaded guilty but your co-offender has gone to trial, the court may delay your sentencing to await the outcome of your co-offender’s trial. This is because the court may want to sentence both of you at the same time in order to properly apply the parity principle.


Many appeals are brought on the basis that the parity principle was not applied at all, or was incorrectly applied. So what happens to your co-accused is an important consideration in your own sentencing.



A case involving multiple accused becomes significantly more time consuming, and difficult to defend. The difficulty tends to increase by the number of co-accused involved. If you are involved in a case with multiple accused, don’t hesitate to contact James Jackson Criminal Defence for expert advice today.

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