Criminal Courts


Criminal Courts

  • 3 types or catergoories of criminal offence:
  • Summary offences- least serious eg driving offences
  • Either way offences- middle range offences which vary in the degree of harm caused eg theft, ABH
  • Indictable offences- most serious offences eg murder, manslaughter, GBH
  • Once a person has been charged with a criminal offence, they are very likely to face a criminal trial in a criminal court. There are different types of criminal courts depending on whether a defendant is facing their initial trial or whether they are appealing the outcome of their initial case
  • Criminal courts divided into:
  • Trial courts
  • Appeal courts
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Trial Courts (criminal)

  • 2 types of criminal trial courts;
  • Magistrates court
  • Crown court
  • The court in which a defendants trial will be heard will depend mainly on the catergory offence that they have been charged with 
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The Magistrates Court

  • Deal mainly with criminal cases
  • Very large workload in which they do the following:
  • Try all summary offences
  • Try some either way offences, tried as if they are summary offences (tried summarily)
  • Deal with the defendants first appearance for an indictable offence eg bail application, plea etc
  • Deal with mode of trial for either way offences (less serious ones)
  • Decide on appropiate sentences- up to 6 months imprisonment for 1 offence and 1 year for more than one offence
  • Order fines of up to £5000 or community sentences, drug rehabilitation orders etc
  • Try young offenders in the youth court. These magistrates have additional training and the trial procedure will take account of the childs age- not open to public
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The Crown Court

  • Deals exclusively with serious criminal cases
  • Try all indictable offences such as murder
  • Try serious either way offences that are to be tried on indictment eg theft
  • Sentencing where the case has been sent by MC to CC for sentence (usually because magistrates sentencing powers are limited)
  • Appeals from MC against conviction or sentence
  • Sentence defendants found guilty in the crown court
  • Sentencing powers unlimited
  • Hear appeals from MC against conviction or sentence
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Criminal Appeal Courts

  • There are a number of appeal courts
  • The crown court
  • The high court (queens bench divisional court)
  • Court of appeal
  • UK supreme court 
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Crown Court (as an appeal court)

  • Can hear a defendants appeal from the magistrates court
  • D has an automatic right to appeal and does not need to gain 'leave'
  • If D pleaded guilty at the magistrates court, he can only appeal against his sentence
  • If D pleaded not guilty but was found guilty at the MC he can only appeal against conviction and/or sentence
  • If the appeal is against conviction, Ds case will be completely reheard by a circuit judge and 2 magistrates. They can:
  • Uphold Ds conviction
  • Vary the conviction
  • If the appeal is against sentence only, the crown court can:
  • Decrease the sentence
  • Increase the sentence but only up to the magistrates maximum
  • Confirm the sentence 
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Appeal to the High Court

  • Appeal heard in the Queens Bench Divisional Court
  • Appeal must be on a point of law (P or D will claim that magistrate got the law wrong)
  • P or D can appeal
  • Appeal heard by up to 3 high court judges 
  • It will be 'way of case stated'
  • Court can confirm, vary or reverse the original ruling
  • Case stated appeals- the trial magistrate is called to restate the case and their original ruling. The high court will then consider whether the magistrate made an error of law. No witnesses are called as the facts or evidence are not in dispute 
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Court of Appeal

  • Head of the CA is the lord chief justice
  • Defendant may appeal against conviction and/or sentence
  • Defendant will need leave to appeal
  • The main reason for appeal is if the conviction is 'unsafe' eg new evidence, new ruling, change in law, technical development etc
  • Appeal heard in the criminal division of the CA
  • CA can quash or vary the conviction or order a retrial
  • Decrease or keep the same sentence but cannot increase it
  • CA can dismiss the appeal, meaning their appeal has failed
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Supreme Court

  • Further appeal may be made to the supreme court by the prosecution or defence
  • Can only be on a point of law of general public importance
  • Leave to appeal must be granted
  • R v R 
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Lay Magistrates

  • Magistrates are part time volunteers who sit as judges in the MC 
  • Deal with all summary offences and some either way offences
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Qualification of lay magistrates

  • Not legally qualified
  • Must be between 18-65 years of age and retire at 70
  • Legal knowledge or experience not required
  • Should live or work near the area 
  • Must be prepared to sit atleast 26 times a year
  • Possess the following 6 qualities:
  • To be of good character
  • To have understanding and communication
  • To have social awareness
  • To be mature and of sound temperament
  • To be of sound judgement
  • To be committed and reliable
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Disclosure of lay magistrates

  • As an extension of 'good character', magistrates must disclose any previous convictions, however minor
  • Must also disclose any civil orders eg divorce or civil maintenance orders
  • Disclosure also applies to the applicants family
  • Rehabilitation of the offenders act 1974 which generally states that old convictions do not have to be disclosed after a certain period- does not apply to magistrates
  • Further requirement is that magistrates must be prepared to take the Oath of Allegiance which is a promise to be loyal to the British monarch
  • British nationality not a requirement
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Exclusions of lay magistrates

  • Certain professions are excluded from becoming a magistrate eg police and armed forces or any other occupations where there is likely to be a conflict of interest or whose jobs are incompatible to being a magistrate
  • Asylum seekers cannot apply
  • People with certain disabilities cannot be a magistrate
  • Magistry compromises approximately equal numbers of men and women. It should aim to reflect society as a whole and so is expected to have a race and gender balance that reflects the makeup of the local area in which they sit and the wider country
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Selection of lay magistrates

  • Magistrates positions are advertised widely in a range of publications
  • Public awareness days in some courts
  • Applicants must complete and submit the ministry of justice application form and provide references
  • Applicants considered by the local advisory committee- 2/3 magistrates and 1/3 not
  • Local advisory committee check references
  • Shortlisted candidates invited to a first interview, mainly assessing suitability based on the 6 key qualities
  • If successful, they will be invited to a second interview which is mainly practical, based on case studies to test the applicants judgement and decision making, skills on sentencing
  • Background checks made for any potential conflicts of interest
  • After interview, potential appointees are reviewed by the local advisory committee to ensure a good cross section of people in relation to ethnic origin, age, gender and social background
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Appointment of lay magistrates

  • Lord chancellor appoints magistrates on the recommendation of the local advisory committee
  • Committee will put forward the names of suitable candidates forward to the ministry of justice for approval before being submitted to the lord chancellor to make the final appointment on behalf of the monarch
  • Final stage is the 'swearing in' of new magistrates by a senior circuit judge at the local crown court
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Composition of the bench

  • Magistrates percieved as middle classed, middle aged and middle minded
  • Judiciary in the MC report found that magistrates were overwhelmingly from professional and managerial background
  • 40% retired from full time employment
  • Majority of magistrates within the 45-65 age range and the appointment of magistrates under the age of 27 is rare
  • 49% women (compared to 10% of professional judges)
  • 6% are from ethnic minority backgrounds which is reasonably representative of the population as a whole
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Training of magistrates

  • In 1998, the magistrates new training initiative was set up to monitor the training of new magistrates- recently amended by the magistrates national training initiative 2004
  • Training supervised by the judicial studies board who decide on the key areas which magistrates need training
  • Training is largely 'on the job' under the supervision of a mentor and always with an experienced M
  • Before sitting in court, a new M will undergo introductory training on the basis of the role. After this they will sit in court with 2 experienced Ms
  • Each new magistrate has a specially trained mentor to guide them through their first few months. Formal mentored sittings in the first 12-18months of the service where they will review their progress and talk over training needs
  • Further training take place to give key knowledge
  • At the end of the first year, consolidation builds on the learning from sittings and core training- designed to help magistrates plan for their ongoing development and prepare for their first appraisal
  • 12-18months after appointment, they are appraised. This will see whether they are demonstrating that they fit the competences. When successful, they are deemed fully competent
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Competencies of magistrates

  • New magistrates need to demonstrate a number of competencies
  • Managing yourself- Focuses on some of the basic aspects of self management in relation to preparing for court, conduct in court and ongoing learning
  • Working as a member of a team- Focuses on the team aspect of decision making
  • Making judicial decisions- Focuses on the impartial and structured decision making
  • Additional training to train as a chair person and for youth and family courts- those who do the additional training need to display the additional competency:
  • Managing judicial decision making- Focuses on working with the clerk, managing the court and ensuring effective, impartial decision making 
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Role and Powers of Magistrates

  • In court: 
  • Decide on questions of bail and custody
  • Hear evidence in a summary trial and some either way offences and decide on the verdict
  • Decide which court an EWO can be heard in 
  • Decide on sentence for those who pleaded guilty or were found guilty
  • Transfer more serious EWO and more indictable offences to the crown court for trial and/or sentencing 
  • Hear youth court cases 
  • Out of court:
  • Issuing search warrants or arrest warrants 
  • Granting time extensions to the police for keeping suspects in custody for questionning 
  • Other roles such as training/mentoring new magistrates
  • Community involvement eg visits to schools/prisons
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Role of magistrate when dealing with summary offen

  • May be a pretrial review if needed eg to agree a date for the trial, order a repeal 
  • If the case is adjourned magistrate will decide on bail or custody
  • Summary trials heard by a bench of 3 magistrates
  • Magistrates are advised by a legal advisor on points of law, legal procedure and sentencing guidlines
  • Having heard all the evidence, they will decide, based on the facts/verdict whether D is guilty or not guilty 
  • Must be an unanimous or majority decision 
  • If D is found guilty, the magistrate will decide the sentence but they must act within their maximum sentencing guideline
  • May send D to crown court for sentencing 
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Role of Magistrates when dealing with an EWO

  • In order to establish if they can hear the case, there will be a plea before venue and a mode of trial
  • Plea before venue introduced by the criminal procedure and investigations act 1996. Clerk explains to D that he/she can plea guilty or not guilty. If D pleads guilty, there is no need for a trial and M may sentence immediately or can order a presentence report or they can send D to CC for sentencing. If D pleads not guilty, there will be a mode of trial to determine the type of trial/court that D will have
  • Mode of trial- P or D outline the facts of the case aswell as their arguments. Based on this, the M can determine whether the case falls within their jurisdiction. They may consider the nature and gravity of the case and their sentencing powers on any points of law that may arise
  • If the M decides that they do not have the jurisdiction to hear the case they will commit the D for trial at the CC. D will have no choice but to have their case heard before a jury in the CC
  • If the magistrates decide that they do have the power to hear the case, then D is given the choice of whether to have their trial heard in MC or CC. If D choses to have their trial in the MC it will be heard summarily or heard on indictment in the CC
  • All indictment offences are heard in CC
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Advantages of Lay Magistrates

  • Seen as an example of active citizenship within the criminal justice system- provide an obvious example of public involvement in the criminal justice system and reduce the need for professional involvement which results in the public having confidence in the long established tradition of being tried by ones peers
  • Workload is huge, dealing with nearly 2 million cases each year- despite the volume of cases, comparatively few Ds appeal against Ms decisions and there is few instances where error of law is made
  • Trials are relatively cheap- as lay magistrates are volunteers, the system is extremely cost effective
  • Magistrates are far more representative of the general population than professional judges
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Disadvantages of Lay Magistrates

  • They tend to be case hardened and biased- in addition police officers are frequent to witnesses and become well known to magistrates
  • Assisted in court by clerk or legal advisor whose role is to ensure the bench is properly directed as to the law and its powers. The clerks advice should always be neutral; they should not try to exert any influence upon Ms decisions- nevertheless there is a suggestion magistrates rely too much on the clerk
  • While magistrates may represent society in terms of gender, surveys suggest that the magestry remains fundamentally white, middle aged, middle class, professional and wealthy. Despite the reduction in the minimum age from 27 to 18 in 2004, only 4% are under 40 whereas the vast majority of Ds in MC are under 25
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Lay people- Jurors

  • The most important use of juries today is in the CC where they decide whether the D is guilty or not guilty. Jury trials account for less than 1% of criminal trials- 97% of criminal trials are dealt with in the MC and of the cases that go to the CC about 2 out of every 3 plead guilty
  • Ordinary members of the public who are summoned to sit on a CC trial, listening carefully to all the evidence presented
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Qualification of jurors

  • Qualification for jury service is set out in the juries act (1974) and was amended by the criminal justice act 2003
  • Jurors must be:
  • Aged between 18-70
  • Registered elector
  • Resident in the UK atleast 5 years since age 13
  • Jury service is compulsory- under the criminal justice act- can only be excused if served in the past 2 years
  • Criminal justice act states that judges, lawyers and pokice officers can be required to sit as jurors 
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Disqualification of jurors

  • A person who is on bail cannot do jury service
  • A person will be permanently disqualified from jury service if they have at any time been sentenced to 5 years or more imprisonment, any imprisonment/detention for public protection or had an extended sentence
  • A person will also be disqualified if they have recieved any other term of imprisonment or community service or recieved a suspended sentence in the past 10 years
  • Also disqualified from jury service for lack of capacity to copy with a trial due to some disabilities or mental incompacity- can be fined up to £5000 if they do not disclose any possible incompacities
  • Anyone who has circumstances which make it difficult for them to do jury service may ask to be excused or ask for the date to be put back(deferral)- these will normally only be granted in a very limited number of circumstances
  • Compelling reasons why eligible people could defer include: illness or disability, death or illness of a close relative, exams etc
  • Compelling reasons why eligible could be excused include: insufficient understanding of english etc
  • Armed forces can be excused- only allowed if service impaired
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Selection of jurors

  • Jury central summoning burea select jurors at random by computer, this is done for every court area every 2 weeks
  • On inital arrival all jurors are sent to the waiting room, 15-20 are chosen at random by the usher for a trial they are then told the name of the D and asked if they know any reason if they should not serve the jury
  • Random selection takes place so 12 are selected from the jury in waiting they will then be sworn in in the court room
  • After the panel of jurors enter the jury box, but before they are sworn in, the P and D have certain rights to challenge 1 or more of the jurors. 2 types of challenges:array and cause
  • Challenge to the array- P or D can challenge whole jury panel if it believes it was picked in a biased or unrepresentative way- successfully used in the 'romford jury' at the old bailey in 1993
  • Challenge for cause- P or D can challenge for cause. This is when an individual juror is challenged, reasons might include disqualification, knowing a witness, defendant or some other relevant person, failure to do so could result in the conviction being quashed 
  • Finally, the 12 jurors are sworn in, in the courtroom which involves taking either a religious or non religous oath
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Role of juries in the criminal justice system

  • Only used in approximately 1% of criminal cases
  • In CC the jury decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty in serious cases
  • Done by deciding on the facts of the case
  • Listen to evidence and look at exhibits such as those involved in the crime 
  • Take notes and the summing up by the judge
  • Jury must apply the law to those facts as directed by the judge
  • At the end of the trial they retire to the jury room to discuss the case in secret and come to an unanimous decision or a majority decision which is only allowed if the judges have deliberated for atleast 2 hours
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Advantages of using jurors in the criminal justice

  • Juries uphold the long established tradition of being tried by ones peers- juries made up of ordinary citizens
  • Can find a D guilty if it is perfectly obvious that D is guilty- can effectively 'bend the law' by reaching a verdict on the fairness rather than the law so called 'laymans equity' professional judiciary can never do this
  • Using juries makes the legal system seem more accessible and open. Involving ordinary citizens in the legal system means that justice is seen to be done- criminal trials are therefore open to public scrutiny rather than being held behind closed doors- fairness of an open trial is ultimately more just
  • More balanced than judiciary and magistrates in terms of race, gender and age- juries not case hardened unlike magistrates and do not have to give a reason for their verdict and are more likely to reach an unbiased verdict
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Disadvantages of using jurors in the criminal just

  • Number of well documented cases where juries have been less than thorough in arriving at their verdict
  • Jurors have no legal training or qualifications
  • Just because they have been selected at random, that does not neccessarily make it unbiased. Some individual jurors might be biased against particular groups 
  • Media coverage may influence jurors- especially true in high profile cases where there has been lots of publicity about the police investigations into a case- eg R v West(1996) where D was convicted for the murders of 10 young people, from the time the bodies were found the media coverage was intense
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