What is a Newton Hearing?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A Newton hearing is an unusual form of court trial found in British law. Taking both name and precedent from a landmark 1982 case, R v Newton, a Newton hearing is sometimes requested or awarded in the event that the defendant pleads guilty but disputes the evidence for the crime. If the defense wants to be sentenced on a factual basis that significantly differs from what the prosecution alleges, a judge may call for a Newton hearing.

A Newton hearing almost always results after a defendant has pled guilty.
A Newton hearing almost always results after a defendant has pled guilty.

The case that originated this practice R v Newton, involved a peculiar he-said, she-said trial over a sexual act that would soon be decriminalized in most of the world. Mr. Newton, the defendant, was accused of "buggery," also called sodomy, with an adult woman. Newton claimed that he was guilty of the act, but insisted that it was consensual between partners. Since the issue of consensus could greatly affect the sentencing, the judge ordered a special hearing in which only the judge, and not a jury, would try to reconcile the facts to determine sentencing.

There are several rules of procedure that guide a Newton hearing. First, the hearing almost always results after a defendant has pled guilty. If a defendant pleads not guilty, the trial will proceed normally and the defendant's counsel can mount a defense of facts. The judge must also determine that the dispute of facts is significant enough to have an impact on sentencing.

Once a Newton hearing is called, both sides have the opportunity to provide evidence. The trial proceeds much as a normal trial would, with the major exception that the judge is acting as a jury for the trial. If there is no specific evidence to present, one or both sides may waive the right to show evidence and instead submit a statement or argument mapping out the case. The judge will review all evidence and statements before coming to a decision on sentencing.

One other criteria for calling a Newton hearing is the manner in which the defense's case contradicts the evidence. The claim cannot simply serve to reduce the charges, such as insisting that a homicide was actually a case of involuntary manslaughter. While the defense can make that case, it is normally done in a regular trial following a “not guilty” plea. Instead, a defense that brings about a Newton trial must clearly contradict the case made by the prosecution on a factual level.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


@minthybear19: .Judge John Deed s01e02 has a Newton hearing: the reason for me being here.


I was attacked by three boys in august 2012. They were all involved in the attempt to steal my handbag with violence, which makes this a robbery.

Two of the boys have pleaded not guilty and therefore there will be a trial by jury with me as the first witness. The other boy has admitted to trying to steal my handbag, but not with the violence, which is theft. Robbery carries a prison sentence, whereas theft does not.

After the trial by jury and the boys are convicted, there will be a newton trial where the judge will decide with all the evidence whether it is theft or robbery.


I was the victim of an attack back in January and the bloke pleaded guilty at court but I have been called as a witness for the CPS in a Newton Hearing late in April. I have no idea why, and obviously the case is still not resolved but I will update afterwards if appropriate.


I watch a lot of criminal justice show and a lot of British television -- but I've never even hear of a Newton Hearing before.

Usually, TV shows like to use rare and unknown things to spice the show up – I'm shocked no one thought to use this type of trial yet.

I guess it's because most cases either plead guilty without questioning the evidence or deny everything.

I can see how this would be valid in sexual assault charges -- which are vague anyway -- but it seems useless otherwise. I suppose it would be good to sort out if any of the evidence was false too.

Are there any other known Newton Hearings?

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