What is the Magistrates’ Court?
The Magistrates’ Court is quite different to the Crown Court. All cases start in the Magistrates’ Court. Magistrates are different to judges as they appear in a voluntary capacity and do not necessarily have legal qualifications. A case in the Magistrates’ Court can also be heard by a District Judge. There are no trials by jury in this court, unlike in the Crown Court.
Magistrates hear cases which involve summary only charges. This means they are less serious, and the Magistrates’ sentencing powers are limited to a maximum of 12 months custody. They can also hear either way offences if the Magistrates believe their sentencing powers are sufficient. However, Magistrates can still send the case to Crown Court for sentencing after convicting a defendant. Indictable only offences are always sent from the Magistrates’ Court to the Crown Court.
Like in the Crown Court, the Magistrates court rooms are open to the public to allow for open justice. The principle is that judicial proceedings be conducted in a transparent manner, with the oversight of the public, so as to safeguard the rights of those subject to the power of the court and to allow for the scrutiny of the public in general.
A court hearing begins by a defendant being identified by the legal advisor. In the majority of cases a defendant will then enter a guilty or not guilty plea. For cases remaining in the Magistrates’ Court the procedure if a defendant pleads not guilty, a trial date will be set on which date they must return to the Magistrates’ Court for a trial to be held. If a defendant pleads guilty, they may be sentenced on the day, or the case may be adjourned in order for the Probation Service to prepare a pre-sentence report, and a date set for a sentence hearing.
A defendant can appeal their conviction or sentence from the Magistrates’ Court to the Crown Court. On an appeal against conviction the Crown Court tries the defendant again and may acquit or convict. On an appeal against sentence the Crown Court passes a fresh sentence, which may be less or more severe.
As well as imposing custodial sentences of up to 12 months, Magistrates can also impose sentence in other ways. This includes a discharge, unlimited fines, community orders, driving disqualifications, and suspended sentences.
I’m due to appear in court, what should I do?
If you are to appear in court you should seek legal representation as soon as possible. Important decisions are made as soon as a case is in court and you need to ensure that your case is prepared from the outset. At Olliers we have a vastly experienced team of advocates who represent people in Magistrates’ Courts on a daily basis.
If you require advice and representation in connection with Magistrates’ Court proceedings, please contact us.