At Lawtons Solicitors, we have a great deal of expertise in representing clients in Magistrates Courts. Appearing in court can be extremely daunting and under such stress it is understandable that you may not be asking the right questions. For this reason we have prepared a brief summary below to highlight what actually happens in Magistrates’ Court proceedings.
Are you to appear at the Magistrates’ Court? If so, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your case with you and give you the support you need during this difficult time.
The Magistrates’ Court is the first step in a criminal case. Civil matters, such as family law cases, may also be heard here. There are normally three magistrates presiding, but notably there is no jury present unlike the Crown Court.
You will either receive a court summons or a postal requisition (a letter sent to your home address) or you may be charged by the police and bailed to court or be kept at a police station and taken straight to the Magistrates’ Court next day. The first hearing will decide whether the severity of the offence(s) requires your case to be redirected to the Crown Court. Such offences are called ‘indictable only’ (such as murder and manslaughter) and can only be heard at the Crown Court.
In addition to ‘indictable only’ offences, there are another two main categories of offence, namely: ‘summary only’ offences (offences considered less grave, such as driving offences, which start and finish within the Magistrates’ Court) and ‘either way’ offences (of moderate severity such as fraud and some assault cases, which may end up in the Crown Court).
Where the Court decides that your case should be heard in the Magistrates’ Court, if it is an “either way” case you may have the option to request a Crown Court hearing in front of a jury. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages going to trial in the Magistrates’ versus the Crown Court and so we would urge you to contact us before making such a decision.
What happens next?
If you have instructed a solicitor, they will meet you outside the courtroom in the Magistrates’ Court. Lawtons solicitors will always be there early to ensure you are fully up to speed and can know what to expect within the courtroom, as well as to answer any last minute questions you may have.
Inside the courtroom after confirming your personal details, you will have the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty to each of the charges. For ‘either way’ offences you can also plead ‘no indication’, which basically means you do not yet know which plea you wish to make. If you plead ‘guilty’ to the offences for which you are accused, details of the offence(s) are heard and you yourself, or your legal representation, have the opportunity to speak.
A plea of ‘not guilty’ will lead to a new date being set for the trial at the Magistrates’ Court, providing the Prosecution choose to continue.
Knowing how to correctly address the court and ensure the Magistrates hear everything they need to is key. Appointing experienced criminal law solicitors such as Lawtons is paramount. At Lawtons our main objective is to achieve the best possible outcome and whenever possible the most lenient sentence.
The ‘sentence’ is the punishment you are given and this can be imprisonment, a fine or community service for example.
To make this decision, the Judge will consider all the facts of the case and any mitigating circumstances, as well as any prior offences committed. Unless you are only given a fine the Probation Service may become involved and interview you to present a Pre-Sentence Report to the court, to help decide what the punishment should be. In addition, court orders can be made, such as a driving ban and anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) for example.
You may also have to pay expenses or compensation for the victims of the offence(s).
This short guide is for information only and is not relevant to any one specific case. Therefore please contact us for expert advice specific to your case and for more information about the Magistrates’ Court process. We will support you throughout the whole process to achieve the best possible outcome for you. Call us on 0333 202 0972 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org