The decision to prosecute having being made by the Crown Prosecution Service, RSPCA, Environment Agency, Department of Work and Pensions or other government agency, will result in your case being progressed formally to court.
All criminal cases start in the Magistrates Court and are heard by either a District Judge or two or three Magistrates.
If your case is heard by a District Judge, he/she will be legally qualified and be a full time paid legal professional who can deal with your case themselves.
If your case is to be heard before Magistrates or Justices of the Peace as they are also referred to, then these are members of the local community who volunteer their services for free. Their role does not require formally legal qualifications though they may well have some degree of legal expertise / knowledge, but they will have undergone formal training to ensure that they possess the requisite and necessary skills to deal with cases before them. They will throughout proceedings be assisted and advised by a suitably qualified Legal Clerk.
Magistrates in the adult criminal court will have a chairman/chairwoman who will speak in court on behalf of the Magistrates and preside over the proceedings.
If you enter a not guilty plea/pleas to matters before the court then your case will be listed for trial, for the Magistrates to listen to evidence put forward on behalf of the prosecution but will also listen to evidence put forward on your behalf, by your solicitor. The court will consider statements and audio of visual evidence such as CCTV footage but will also consider more technical or legal issues such as whether it would be appropriate for an individual’s previous convictions or “bad character” to be admitted before the court.
If you plead guilty or having been found guilty following a trial, then the Magistrates will proceed to sentence following representations by the Crown Prosecution Service or other prosecuting body, and your solicitor. The Magistrates or District Judge will be assisted by referring to sentencing guidelines which seek to provide certainty and consistency in sentencing individuals. Such sentencing guidelines will set out the “sentencing range” that the court should look to sentence within, although the court can step outside of that range, if they feel that the case merits such a course of action.
The Magistrates Court has a number of penalties available to sentence guilty offenders. At the higher end of the scale, a period of in custody of not more than six months per offence is available to the sentencing court. This is subject to a maximum of twelve months for multiple offences however, there must be at least two Either Way (see below), offences for this to take effect.
If you are attending court and you are under 18 years of age, then you will be dealt with as a juvenile. In attending court it is expected that you will be accompanied by a parent or a responsible adult. The Magistrates Youth Court however has significantly higher sentencing powers as compared to adult offenders. In serious cases, a juvenile can be sentenced to a custodial sentence of up to two years. A custodial sentence in the Youth Court means that the period of custody is split with half spent in custody and the unexpired term of that sentence being under the supervision of the Youth Offending Team within the community.
Magistrates also can consider matters such as legal arguments or bail i.e. whether you are to be held in custody until the next court hearing or until your case concludes.
The Magistrates Court deal with over 95% of all criminal cases which for adult offenders, are split into three distinct categories.
Whilst all matters before the Court are serious, offences in this category are the less serious offences such as most motoring offences, minor criminal damage and minor assaults. Such cases will be dealt with to conclusion in the Magistrates Court.
These are cases that fall into the category which can either be dealt at the Magistrates Court or before a Judge and Jury at the Crown Court. The Magistrates Court will consider the nature and seriousness of the offence or offences, to determine whether they are able to deal with the case. If the matter or matters before the court are “so serious” that they should be dealt with at the Crown Court, then the Magistrates Court will decline jurisdiction and commit the case before it to the Crown Court for trial and / or sentence. The reasoning being that the Crown Court, has higher sentencing powers to deal with defendant’s whom are found guilty or have pleaded guilty. Either Way offences can include matters such as theft, handling stolen goods, more serious assaults and domestic burglary. Should the court decide that their sentencing powers are sufficient to deal with your case, you still retain the right to elect a jury trial before the Crown Court. We will of course fully advise you throughout proceedings.
These are the most serious cases which due to their nature, cannot be heard at the Magistrates Court. They will be administratively sent to the Crown Court, following the first hearing at the Magistrates Court. Indictable offences include matters such as Murder, Manslaughter, Rape and Robbery. Pleas will not be taken at this stage of the proceedings however, the Magistrates Court may determine other relevant matters such as whether the defendant will benefit from bail be it conditional or unconditional, or even to remand into custody to the date of the next court hearing.
We at Taylor Goodchild understand that attending court can be extremely stressful and confusing. We aim to speak to all clients prior to attending court to make them aware of procedures, how the court operates and also to take initial instructions. This approach ensures that clients are fully prepared, guided and assisted throughout the court process, thereby minimising the impact upon them.
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