The Magistrates' Court
Magistrates' Courts deal with about 97% of all criminal cases. They;
- Try all summary cases.
- Try any 'triable either way' offences that are assigned to their courts.
- Deal with the first hearing of all indictable offences that are then sent on to the Crown Court.
Over 90% of defendants in the Magistrates' Courts plead guilty. It is then up to the court to decide on the appropriate penalty.
Magistrates also deal with matters like issuing arrest warrants and deciding bail applications. They also try cases in the Youth Courts, for defendants between 10 and 17 years of age. Young offenders can, however, be tried in the Crown Court when the charge is murder, manslaughter, **** or causing death by dangerous driving.
Every criminal case starts at the Magistrates' Court, which hears over a million cases per year. There are three types of offences -
- These can only be tried by magistrates. These are the least serious offences. Fines range from a minimum of £200 to a maximum of £5000. The maximum prison sentence that magistrates can impose is six months.
- These are sometimes referred to as 'middling offences', and can be tried either by magistrates or by the judge and jury at the Crown Court. Magistrates hear the defendant's plea before deciding on a venue. This is called the 'plea before venue'.
- If the defendant pleads guilty, they then have no right to ask for a Crown Court trial, but the magistrates may decide to send them there for sentencing.
- If the plea is 'not guilty', magistrates carry out 'mode of trial' proceedings to decide where to try the case, considering the case itself and their powers of punishment. The defendant then has the right to ask for a Crown Court trial, should they wish to have one.
- These are the most serious offences such as murder, **** and robbery. They must be heard in the Crown Court, but the Magistrates' Court deals with the first hearing before sending them to the Crown Court.
A defendant who has been found guilty in the Magistrates' Court has an automatic right to appeal to the Crown Court against the conviction, sentence, or both.
The case will be completely reheard in the Crown Court before a judge and two magistrates. They may confirm the original verdict, reverse the decision or vary the decision to find the defendant guilty of a different offence.
In terms of sentencing, the Crown Court can confirm the sentence, increase it or decrease it, however, they cannot increase it beyond the Magistrates' own powers of sentencing.
Appeals on a point of law go to the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court.