In the United Kingdom’s legal system, there is a wide range of courts within the UK. They are:
- The County Court
- The Family Court
- The Magistrates’ Court
- The Crown Court
- The High Court
- The Court of Appeal
- The UK Supreme Court
The three main courts that an individual is likely to know of or have encountered in Criminal law are the Magistrate’s Court, the Youth Court, and the Crown Court. In this blog, we will look at the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court and how they operate. We will also examine how the two courts differ in this blog.
The Magistrates’ Court
After a suspect has been charged with an offence, they will make their first appearance in court before the magistrates’ court (unless they are aged 17 or under, in which case they will normally be dealt with in the Youth Court). Depending on the type of offence the suspect has been charged with, the case may either remain in the magistrates’ court or be sent to the Crown Court for trial. Approximately 95% of all criminal cases are dealt with by the magistrates’ court.
The magistrates’ court has many different functions which many people are unaware of. These functions include:
- Issuing search and arrest warrants
- Issuing warrants for further detention under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
- Trying summary offences and some either way offences
- Sending indictable-only offences and some either way offences to the Crown Court for trial
- Dealing with applications for a representation order; and
- Dealing with applications for bail.
Most magistrates are not legally qualified (i.e., they are not trained solicitors etc). They are members of the local community who have volunteered their services to the magistrates’ court. Usually, there are three magistrates who sit in court at any one time. The magistrates will be advised on matters of law, practice, and procedure by a legal adviser (commonly known as the clerk of justices). The legal adviser is responsible for the efficient running of the magistrates’ court and plays a significant role in the proceedings. The legal advisor cannot advise magistrates on questions of facts in the case, only matters of law.
Some magistrates’ courts will have a legally qualified magistrate known as a District Judge who will sit alone to hear cases. The District Judge will be either a qualified solicitor, or a barrister.
The Crown Court
The Crown Court is the court which deals with offenders charged with the most serious types of criminal offences. The main functions of the Crown Court are:
- To conduct the trial of and, following conviction, to sentence offenders convicted of all indictable-only and some either way offences
- To determine questions of bail and representation, particularly appeals be a defendant against the refusal of bail by the magistrates’ court; and
- To hear appeals against conviction and/or sentence from the magistrates’ court.
Proceedings in the Crown Court are before a judge and, if the court goes to trial, before a judge and jury. Judges of varying levels of seniority sit in the Crown Court. Most cases will be dealt with by a Circuit Judge. More serious cases and cases which are particularly high profile, will be heard before a High Court Judge.
If the defendant pleads not guilty and the case goes to trial, the judge will decide matters of law and the jury will decide matters of fact. If the Crown Court is hearing an appeal against sentence and/or conviction from the magistrates’ court, no jury will be present, but the judge will sit with two to four magistrates.
What are the Classification of Offences
Indictable-only offences are the most serious form of criminal offence and must be dealt with the Crown Court. Although a defendant charged with an indictable-only offence will make by their first appearance before the magistrates’ court, the magistrates will immediately send the case to the Crown Court. Examples of indictable-only offences are:
Either Way Offences
Either way offences can be heard either by the Magistrates’ court, or by the Crown Court. A defendant charged with an either way offence will make their first appearance before the Magistrates’ court, and the Magistrates will then decide whether to keep the case before them or to send the case to the Crown Court for trial. A case is normally sent to the Crown Court if it is deemed too serious for the magistrates to deal with. If the magistrates do decide to keep the case before them, the defendant has the right to elect trial by a judge and jury in the Crown Court.
Examples of either way offences include:
- Most forms of burglary
- Possession of drugs
- Assault Occasioning Actual bodily harm (ABH)
Summary offences are the least serious form of criminal offence and may only be dealt with by the magistrates’ court. Examples of summary offences include:
- Common assault
- Various road traffic offences.
How can we help?
If you have been found guilty of an offence and wish to know more about the different courts and how they operate, here at Criminal Defence Solicitors we are here to help. We can provide our expert defence team to discuss your case and help you through the process of appearing at court. We will look at all the facts of the accusation and decide what is the best way forward to achieve the best for you and your case. This will include everything from the facts of the case all the way to what defence is best for your case.
Our team of litigators and advocates have many years of experience analysing complex factual scenarios and applying them to often novel areas of law, ensuring we get the best possible results for our clients. Do not hesitate to call us on 020 8158 9007or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to get expert legal advice for you and your case.