If you find yourself charged with a criminal offence, your first appearance in Court would have been before the local Magistrates’ Court. At that hearing, a decision will be made as to whether your case should remain in the Magistrates’ Court or be allocated to the Crown Court.
What cases go to the Crown Court?
The offence in question will dictate what Court can hear your case, more serious offences can only be heard in the Crown Court, less serious offences at the Magistrates’ Court, and some offences can be heard in either.
If you plead Guilty at your first court appearance, depending on the case and how serious it is, it is possible that it could be sent to the Crown Court for the sentencing procedure.
If you plead not guilty, or indicate that you will plead not guilty, and your case is one that the magistrates decide that they cannot deal with, it will be allocated to the Crown Court, in which case you will make your first appearance in that Court shortly thereafter.
Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing
You will be represented by a Barrister or Higher Courts Advocate instructed by Lawtons to represent you. That initial hearing is known as a Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing. At that hearing you will be expected to enter a plea to the charges against you.
If the plea is ‘not guilty’, then the Court will give directions for the progress of the case towards a trial, including setting dates for the service of prosecution evidence and any other issues of law that may be required. At this stage it will either be given a “fixed date” for your trial or the Court will identify a “warned list” into which the case will be entered.
A “warned list” is a list of cases which are used as “back up” cases if a case which is given a fixed date for trial does not proceed for some reason. If your case is entered into a “warned list” this means that it could be listed for trial at any time during a given period, which in most Courts is two weeks but this does vary from Court to Court. You will normally receive notification that your trial is listed on the working day before it is due to commence so you have to keep yourself available during that two week period. You could, however, find that your case is not listed during the warned period in which case it will thereafter be entered into the next available warned list.
If your case is given a fixed date for trial then you know exactly what day your trial will start and once a trial starts it continues to its conclusion.
In very complex or serious cases the Court may list it for a Further Trial Preparation Hearing shortly before the trial is due to commence to deal with any issues that may need to be resolved or to give further directions.
After your case is listed for trial, you attend Court. The trial takes place before a Judge and Jury.
Once a Jury is selected and sworn, the prosecutor will tell the jury what the case is about and then call the prosecution witnesses to give evidence that will be cross examined by your Defence Barrister.
Once all prosecution witnesses have given evidence then you, the Defendant, can give evidence followed by any Defence witnesses. Once the Court has heard all the evidence the Barristers make closing speeches to the Jury, following which the Judge sums up the evidence and tells the Jury about the relevant law in relation to the charges.
Once that is completed the Jury will retire the consider their verdicts and make decisions as to whether the Defendant is guilty or not guilty.
What happens next?
If found not guilty, then the person on trial will be discharged from the Court and the case is brought to a conclusion.
However, if found guilty, then the court can either sentence you straight away (having heard from your Barrister in mitigation). Otherwise, your sentence will be adjourned for the preparation of pre-sentence and perhaps other reports, prepared by the Probation Service, to assist with sentencing and identifying the possible sentencing options.
Nb. This guide is intended to give general information only and not intended to be used as the basis upon which Advice is given nor should it be relied upon as giving advice specific to a case or individual and Lawtons do not accept liability for anyone using this guide. Should you require specific advice in connection with a real case or situation, please contact us immediately so that we can provide specific Advice