What does “no case to answer” mean?

A ‘no case to answer’ submission is a legal argument which can be raised at the end of the prosecution’s case.  If successful it has the effect of stopping the proceedings before any defence evidence is called.


How does it work?

The prosecution will present its case, usually by calling a mixture of live and written evidence. They may also present physical evidence called ‘exhibits’. The prosecution always goes first. At the end of the prosecution case and before the defence embarks on theirs, the defence advocate may make a submission that there is no ‘prima facie’ case, that is, that there is no case ‘on the face of it’.

The case of R v Galbraith set out the test for the court to consider when hearing an application for ‘no case to answer’, and it remains good law today. The submission has two limbs as follows:

  1. Either, that there is no evidence that a crime has been committed by the defendant; or
  2. That there is some evidence before the court, but it is tenuous or inconsistent in nature.

In those circumstances the Judge must consider whether the evidence, when taken at its highest, is such that the jury could not properly convict upon it. If the answer to that is yes, then the case should not be allowed to continue, and the Judge should dismiss it. In short, if despite giving the prosecution case the most generous of interpretations the case is still not strong enough to be capable of convincing a jury of guilt, then it should be dismissed.


Why make the argument?

Because if successfully argued it stops the trial then and there.

A successful half-time submission is enormously beneficial to the client. It means the case goes no further and the client avoids the anxiety of giving evidence. It quickly brings the prosecution case to an end and allows the client to put everything behind them – to get back to their lives.

Our Criminal Defence team is therefore always alert to occasions where this argument can be used to help resolve a case at an early stage and regularly face relieved and delighted clients who have benefited by our making successful submissions of ‘no case to answer’ at trial.