Pre-trial Procedure in Criminal Cases

Pre-trial hearings

In criminal law, a suspect is innocent until proven guilty, and under Article 6 ECHR they have the right to a fair trial which is a principle that should be upheld throughout the entirety of the criminal process. The courts are obligated to maintain this treatment under the Human Rights Act 1998. 

All criminal cases begin in the Magistrates' Court for a pre-trial hearing. Magistrates' Court deal with matters such as granting bail, pre-sentencing reports, medical reports etc. and then they set the date and time for the case to appear in court. It is very unusual for cases to be dealt with immediately in this hearing. 

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Summary Offences

Summary only offences are minor for example common assault and criminal damage under £5K. They are always tried at the Magistrates' Court. If the defendant pleads guilty then they will be sentenced at the Magistrates' Court. A not guilty plea will proceed onto an adjournment to allow sufficient time for the case to be prepared and then a summary trial will take place at the Magistrates' Court.

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Triable Either Way Offences

These are offences that aren't overly serious but not that minor also such as theft or ABH. These cases can be tried in either the Magistrates' or Crown Courts. Firstly there is a plea before venue, the outlines of which are set out in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, where the defendant enters their plea thus determining the next part of the process

If the defendant pleads guilty then they will have a summary trial at the Magistrates' Court where the will be sentenced unless the Magistrates' send the defendant to the Crown Court for sentencing should the required sentenced go beyond their limits. This is known as a committal for sentence.

If a defendant pleads not guilty then they proceed through a mode of trial. This determines where the case shall be heard. The Magistrates' under s19 Magistrates' Court Act 1980 must consider the nature of a case, their powers of punishment, and representations of defendant or prosecution when deciding the suitability of a case to be heard at the Magistrates' Court. If the Magistrates' are prepared to hear the case then the defendant has to choose where they want their case to be heard. They could have a summary trial at Magistrates' or and indictable trial with a jury at the Crown Court.

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Indictable Offences

These offences are the most serious such as murder, ****, and manslaughter. There is an early administrative hearing that occurs first but under s51 Crime and Disorder Act, an indictable offence must be sent to the Crown Court using committal proceeds. A not guilty plea results in a jury trial at the Crown Court. While a guilty plea results in sentencing at the Crown Court. 

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