What Happens In The Crown Court: Answer 3:
So you've been told that your case is going to be heard in the Crown Court. You are likely to have been told this by Magistrates and your Tucker's solicitor when attending the Magistrates' Court. But what does this actually entail?
The first practical implication is that you will likely need to travel further to get to the Crown Court than the Magistrates' Court. Most Crown Courts are located in county towns or cities and there are far fewer Crown Courts tham the more local Magistrates' Courts. It is important therefore to think about how you will get there, both in terms of the cost and the route you will need to take. Google Maps or the CityMapper app can help you plan as well as sites such as nationalrail.co.uk. Should you live far away from the Court it may be possible for your Tucker's solicitors to arrange a video hearing from a court local to you to save you travelling a long distance for a short hearing. Please speak to us about this if this applies to you. We have recently been involved in a case where one of the Defendants appeared by video link from Grimsby to Maidstone Crown Court.
Most likely the evening before your first hearing you will be told of your listing time. Phrases such a 'not before 10am' or 'first on at 11am' are not uncommon in the world of the Crown Court. However be prepared for the fact that cases can be taken out of turn and you may face a substantial delay if other cases overrun. Although the List Office may set the time, on any given day the cases are called on mostly at the Judge's direction. For this reason, whilst you may want a friend or family member to attend with you for support, it is best best to leave young children and any impatient relatives at home as the facilities at court are relatively sparse and you will not be allowed to leave the court building unless the Judge gives permission.
When arriving at court the security staff will ask you to empty your pockets and then ask you to walk through a security scanner as well as searching any bags you may have brought with you. This is routine. However, please note that the security staff will prevent you from taking anything into the building that could be used as a weapon. For example, I have often had to leave my umbrella with security staff at Woolwich Crown Court. Knives of any sort will be confiscated. Similarly you will be asked to take a sip of any drink containers that you are taking into court.
Once you have entered the building it is usually best to wait outside the courtroom in which you case is to be heard. This will enable the court usher to record that you are there and to find your Tucker's solicitor or barrister for you if you have not already pre-arranged a place to meet with them. You will then have an opportunity to discuss your case prior to the case being called on.
Most first hearings in the Crown Court are known as Plea and trial Preparation hearings which set the future course of the case. If a guilty plea is entered the court will look at when best to sentence (prison or a community sentence), either immediately or in the future depending on whether there are any reports that need to be requested to give the court more information about you - this could be a pre-sentence report (prepared by the Probation Service) or other report such as medical report or character references. Where possible your Tucker's solicitor will let you know in advance of the hearing what is likely to happen but please note this is always an educated predication rather than a guarantee.
Should you enter a not guilty plea the case will go off to another date for a trial.This will be when the court will hear evidence on behalf of the Prosecution and Defence in order to reach a verdict. This will normally be over two or three days but could last for weeks or even months if the case is complicated. I recently defended in a case which lasted for four months. This s most likely where there is more than one defendant and lots of prosecution witnesses.
Please also note that if you plead guilty in a case there others are pleading not guilty it is likely that your sentence will be adjourned until after the trial of the others which could lead to months of delay to your case - but the Judge will bear this in mind in your favour when dealing with your case after the trial of the others has finished.
In between the Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing and the trial there will be dates set by the court for things to happen. One of the most important dates will be the date for the service of your Defence Statement (which is the document formally setting out your defence) and so your Tucker's solicitor will want you to keep regularly in touch in order to prepare your case for trial. This preparation can sometimes be crucial to the outcome of the case and it is in your best interests to engage fully with your Tucker's solicitor during this time.
I will cover what happens in a Crown Court trial in a separate blog post. Suffice it so say for now that twelve members of the public (a jury) are given the task of determining whether the prosecution has proved it's case so that they are sure. If the jury is not sure you will be found not guilty. If the jury is sure you will be found guilty and then sentenced immediately or at a later date in a similar way to that mentioned above.
Whilst this can all seem rather daunting please note that your Tucker's solicitor will be there to support you all of the way endeavouring always to obtain the best outcome for you. You can always get through to us with any questions on 0300 303 3883.
Adrian Rohard is a Partner and Higher Court's Advocate at Tuckers Kent Branch.