A quick and easy guide to the Criminal Justice System

Written 18th June 2024 by Hope Rea

What is a solicitor?

A solicitor is a qualified legal professional who provides legal advice to clients and represents their legal interests in legal proceedings.

In the context of criminal defence, solicitors will represent defendants in criminal proceedings. Representation includes representation during police station interviews and preparation of cases in the Magistrates’ and Crown Court.

Olliers Solicitors comprises of a team of specialist solicitors who can advise clients from the pre-charge stage up until the conclusion of a matter in the Magistrates’ or Crown Court.

What is a barrister?

A barrister is a different kind of legal professional from a solicitor. Barristers specialise in advocacy mainly in the Crown Court and often work on cases involving serious crimes such as murder, assault, theft, and drug offences. Criminal barristers represent clients in court, providing advocacy and will present the case, evidence and legal arguments to judges and juries. They typically receive instructions from solicitors who have prepared the case.

Barristers can offer specialist advice on complex legal issues, draft legal documents, and negotiate on behalf of their clients. Their role is crucial in ensuring that defendants receive a fair trial and that the legal process is upheld with integrity and expertise.

Barristers are self-employed but they are usually part of a ‘chambers’ who provide clerks and offices for them.

What is the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)?

The Crown Prosecution Service are the main prosecuting body in the UK. They are the next step in the system after the police have investigated the offence.

They are first given a file from the police either during the investigation or when the investigation is complete. They will decide if there is enough evidence to move forward with a prosecution i.e. if there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and if it is in the public interest for an individual to be prosecuted. If they do not think there is enough evidence, they can either refuse to charge the suspect or ask the police to investigate further.

If they think the case reaches the ‘charging standard’ they will charge the suspect with the offence(s). This means the suspect’s case is now being prosecuted in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court

What is the Magistrates’ Court?

If someone is charged with a criminal offence, they will be informed of the date of their first court appearance which will take place in the Magistrates’ Court. The Magistrates’ Court is the lower court dealing with ‘summary offences’ which are considered less serious as they carry less significant sentences. Examples of common offences which are mainly dealt in the Magistrates’ Court include low level motoring offences, minor assaults and public order offences. More serious offences, or ‘indictable only’ offences are referred to the Crown Court.

There is no jury in the Magistrates’ Court as cases are either dealt with by district judges or a panel of volunteer magistrates.

In 2023, the Magistrates’ Courts in England and Wales dealt with around 1.4 million criminal and non-criminal cases.

Will I be provided with a solicitor at the police station?

If you are arrested, the police must inform you that you have the right to free and independent legal advice. You can ask for a particular solicitor or firm but if not, you should be offered the ‘Duty Solicitor’ who will be a local qualified police station accredited lawyer or solicitor.

Duty Solicitors are a group of practicing solicitors or lawyers who are on a rota which ensures legal advice is available 24/7. Duty solicitors advise clients on their legal rights, assist with police interviews, and may represent them in court if necessary. The Duty Solicitor scheme is crucial for individuals who may not have their own lawyer and ensure that everyone has access to justice, regardless of their financial situation.

Alternatively, you can choose to instruct a solicitor on a privately funded basis.

Are Duty Solicitors independent?

Although the Duty Solicitor Scheme is funded by the government, they have no connection with the police or the government. The Solicitors Regulation Authority enforces principles which ensure solicitors must act with independence and in the best interests of their client.

What happens when I go to court?

At the first appearance at a Magistrates’ Court the key details of the case are presented. There will either be a panel of magistrates, or a district judge and the defendant’s identity will be confirmed. Then the charges are read aloud. The court will then decide if the case is one that may be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court or if it needs to be referred to the Crown Court. The magistrates will also decide whether the defendant will be bailed or remanded into custody. The defendant will be asked if they plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, sentencing may occur immediately or be adjourned for the preparation of a probation or medical report. If a not guilty plea is entered, the court will schedule further hearings or a trial date and discuss the evidence and witnesses to be called.

What is a criminal conviction?

A criminal conviction in the UK occurs when a person is found guilty of a criminal offence either by pleading guilty or being proven guilty in a court of law. The conviction results in a formal record of the offence and can lead to various penalties, including fines, community service, probation, or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the crime. Convictions are recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) and can have long-term impacts on an individual’s life, affecting employment opportunities, travel visas, and more.

Our specialist DBS team can assist you with applications for removal of records from the Police National Computer.

Olliers Solicitors – specialist criminal defence lawyers

Olliers is one of the UK’s leading criminal defence law firms, specialising in the defence of individuals, businesses, and other organisations across a broad range of corporate and financial crime, regulatory offences, serious crime and sexual offences. We are ranked by the Legal 500 and the Chambers Guide 2024. In 2024 we won the award for Crime Team of the Year at the Manchester Legal Awards for the seventh time. We are a Times Best Law Firm 2024.

If you would like to discuss how Olliers can proactively assist you in relation to your criminal case, please contact our new enquiry team either by email at info@olliers.com, or by telephone at 020 3883 6790 (London) or 0161 834 1515 (Manchester) or by completing the form below and our new enquiry team will contact you.

Hope Rea

Trainee Solicitor


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