What Is a Newton Hearing?

A Newton hearing is an uncommon legal procedure in British law that takes place in the event that the defense pleads guilty on facts that are different from the allegations of the prosecution. In such a situation, the judge sits without a jury, hears the claims of both sides and tries to decide which party is telling the truth.

The hearing usually occurs after a defendant has pled guilty and only if the judge determines that the factual evidence is conflicting enough to impact sentencing. Both sides provide the judge with evidence, and the hearing progresses like a regular trial, with the exception that the judge takes the role of the jury. If either side has no evidence to present, they may submit a statement instead. The judge evaluates all evidence and statements before making a sentencing decision.

The original case that this legal procedure comes from is the R vs Newton hearing, in which Mr. Newton, the defendant, was accused of sodomy with an adult woman. Newton declared that he was guilty but said that the act was consensual. Since the debate about whether it was really consensual was important to the outcome of the case, a special hearing was ordered in which only the judge made the sentencing decision.