What Happens In the Magistrates' Court? Answer 2
When charged with a criminal offence (at the police station) or summonsed (by letter) you will be asked to appear first of all at a Magistrates' Court. What happens next will depend on the type of offence.
Many cases can only be heard in the Magistrates' Court, for example, most road traffic offences including drink driving or driving with no insurance. These cases are referred to as 'summary-only' cases and cannot be heard in a higher court unless there is an appeal. Unless you are a youth (under eighteen) these offences attract a maximum prison sentence of six months for one offence or twelve months for two offences taken together. However many cases are dealt with by way fine or community order (such as unpaid work).
When arriving at court you will first be required to book in with an usher and if you have a lawyer (recommended) you will then be given an opportunity to meet up with them to discuss your case before going into court.
If you are pleading not guilty, the case will be put over (adjourned) to another date when the court will re-assemble and hear the evidence from both the prosecution (on behalf of the police) and the defence (on your behalf), otherwise known as a trial. Your Tuckers solicitor will help you navigate this process. After hearing the evidence the court will decide if the case is proven against you - if they are not satisfied so that they are sure that the charges are made out out then you will be declared not guilty. If they are sure they will find the case proven and enter a guilty verdict. The court could then sentence you immediately or wait until a later date having asked for further information about you (sometimes including a report prepared about you by the Probation Service, called a Pre-Sentence Report).
Should you plead guilty from the outset the court will skip the trial part mentioned above.
Some charges can be dealt with either in the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. Generally speaking these are more serious offences but all include relatively minor offences such as low level thefts.The are commonly referred to as 'offences triable-either-way'.
Where this applies the court will ask you to indicate your plea and if not guilty or 'no plea' is indicated the court will make a decision as to whether they can keep hold of the case or if they need to send it to the Crown Court because it is too serious for them to deal with. If the court does accept the case you will still have the right to take the case to the Crown Court to be heard by a Judge and Jury (twelve ordinary people picked at random). There are very real pros and cons of taking the case to the Crown Court and these options are best discussed with one of our solicitors at court.
Other more serious types of cases can only be heard in the Crown Court such as murder, rape, GBH with intent. These are known as 'indictable-only offences'. Where charged with this type of offence the Magistrates will not ask you directly for your plea and your plea will be taken at a later date in the Crown Court. Again your lawyer can advise you further as to how best to proceed in these circumstances.
There are many twists and turns to the court process and other issues can arise such as whether you are placed on bail (with or without conditions), whether you have Magistrates to hear the case or a District Judge and whether you would be best served having your case heard in the Crown Court if given the choice.
I would always recommend seeking early help from one of us at Tuckers Solicitors (0300 303 3883) to advise you on the best course of action in your particular circumstances. Most times this help can be provided free of charge (under legal aid) and we can advise you further about this too. Please be assured that we at Tuckers Solicitors will do our best to make the process as stress-free as possible and will fight for the best outcome for you.
Adrian Rohard is a Partners and Higher Courts Advocate at Tuckers Kent Branch.