What is a PET form and how should you fill it out?

Most people heading for their first court date don’t realise that they need to fill out a Preparation for Effective Trial form before the Magistrates will see them. Some try to do it themselves – while others get the Duty Solicitor to do it for them.

The problem is that you and / or the Duty Solicitor may not be making the best decisions when filling out the form.

The reality is that while Duty Solicitors may not be making bad decisions – they just may not be making the better decisions that someone who has spent more time studying your case could make.

The big problem with on the spot PET form filling

Like many criminal lawyers, I used to think the PET form was a formality. Then I noticed that some lawyers were using the form to try to pin the prosecution into a corner by looking for a laundry list of evidence they hoped the police would never be able to provide.

While the Magistrates hate this, “gotcha” approach – and it produces many more misses than hits, it made me realise that deeper thinking about the case at the PET form stage could pay big dividends.

By adopting a tick box approach to the PET, you could be missing a golden opportunity to frame your case in a way that puts the prosecution on the back foot and helps you win.

The PET tick boxes are just the beginning

If you are pleading not guilty, you, the prosecutor and the court will be completing a Preparation for Effective Trial (PET) form. The purpose of the PET form is to help the magistrates manage and timetable your case.

When you download a copy of the PET form, you’ll see that there’s a part for the prosecutor to complete, a part for you to complete, and a space for the court’s Directions.

Directions are what the Court says needs to happen next – and who needs to make sure that they’re done.

You will also see that the PET form refers to the Rules everyone must follow. If you do not have a lawyer, it will be your responsibility to know and follow the Rules.

Tick box 1: What’s your issue?

The PET form also is where you tell the court and the prosecutor what your issue is.

Perhaps you have been charged with Theft. If you are pleading “Not Guilty”, your issue may be that you own the property they say you stole.

Sometimes, the issue is, “it didn’t happen”. In those cases, the magistrates might say that the issue is a, “factual dispute”.

Tick box 2: Time-tabling

The PET form helps the magistrates estimate how long your trial will take. The magistrates need to do this to find time in the court schedule to accommodate the number of witnesses, closing remarks and the magistrates’ deliberation time.

Therefore, it’s important for you tell the magistrates if you have a witness you want to call to give live evidence. If you have a witness, you should put their name(s) down on the PET form.

Tick box 3: Who will be a witness?

You will also need to tell the court if you “agree” the prosecutions witnesses. If you are disputing what the witness is saying in their statement, then you do not agree it – and that witness needs to be called to give live evidence so you can challenge it in court.

What’s the PET special sauce?

Nail down the issue. Then, if you think the police have, or could have, material that could help you or which undermines their case, the PET form could be the place to let the prosecution know.

A very simple example is the hypothetical Theft example above. There, the issue was that you owned the property the police say you stole. Perhaps there is a till receipt. Maybe you’d like to point this out to the prosecution now.

The Hall & Oates Warning

Some things are better left unsaid.

Your request could be the thing that hangs you in a way that you never anticipated.

This is where experience is invaluable – and probably why most time-pressed Duty solicitors stick with the tick box approach.

My simple tip

Get the Crown Prosecution Service to send you their evidence. Study that evidence with a trusted Criminal law adviser and consider how you can fill out the PET form to achieve the best result possible. Do this long before your first court date to avoid on the spot missteps.