A bill of particulars is an itemized list of the charges and claims being made in a court case. It is provided by the prosecution or plaintiff upon request from the defense. In civil cases, there are situations in which the plaintiff can demand a bill of particulars from the defendant, if the defendant plans to introduce counterclaims. In some trials, the plaintiff or prosecution files the list with the court voluntarily while in other instances the legal team may wait for a demand from the defense before producing the bill of particulars.
There are a number of functions served by the bill of particulars. For the defense, the list provides a clear idea of what the defendant is being charged with and which claims will be made during the course of the trial. This reduces the element of surprise and allows the defense to prepare in accordance with the known charges and claims. In many legal systems, it is believed to be important to allow the defense to prepare as much as possible for a trial to be fair.
Using a bill of particulars, the defense can think about some of the arguments and tactics which will be used by the prosecution and prepare for them. It can also respond more accurately and appropriately once it has the list in hand. There may also be cases in which the defense notes that some of the claims made in the written statement are erroneous and could undermine the case presented by the other side.
If a bill of particulars is not provided, the defense can file for one by sending a list of questions to the prosecution or the plaintiff. Usually opposing counsel is given 30 days to respond to the demand for a bill of particulars, and an opportunity to object is provided. If there is a belief that a question is not appropriate or could compromise the case, an objection may be filed and the court can review the information to determine whether or not to grant it.
In civil litigation, as soon as the defense files counterclaims, the plaintiff can request a bill of particulars outlining the nature of these claims. In this case, the claims made by the plaintiff are still present and must be addressed, but the plaintiff needs an opportunity to respond to the counterclaims and is entitled to know the specific details of the claims.