How a criminal offence is dealt with depends on the category it falls within.

There are 3 types of offences:

Summary Offences

The offences within this category can only be tried in the Magistrates’ Court. The only exception to this is when they are linked or associated with a more serious offence which has been sent to the Crown Court.

There are many offences that fall within this category. Almost all driving offences are summary only except for dangerous driving or offences whereby a fatality has occurred.

Common Assault, which is the least serious form of assault, involving minor injury is a summary only offence as are section 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act, involving offensive words or behaviour.

Summary offences normally carry a maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonment although certain offences such as Vehicle Interference have a lower maximum sentence of 3 month.

Either Way Offences

The offences within this category can be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court.

The range within this category is very wide in terms of the level of seriousness of offences.

Examples of Either Way offences are Theft, Burglary, Possession of Drugs, Possession with Intent to Supply Drugs, Affray, Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm.

A person charged with an Either Way offence must first appear before a Magistrates’ Court where an indication of plea will be requested. The Magistrates’ Court will hear the facts of the case and decide where the case should be allocated for Trial or Sentence.

If, on the facts of a case, the Magistrates are of the opinion that their sentencing powers are insufficient (if there is one either way offence then the maximum is 6 months, if there are 2 or more then the maximum is 12 months) then they will decline jurisdiction and allocate the case to the Crown Court.

If, on the facts of a case, the Magistrates’ are of the opinion that their sentencing powers are sufficient then the case is allocated to the Magistrates’ Court. However, a Defendant is then given the option of electing for the case to proceed to the Crown Court in any event. This is a balancing act and requires careful consideration as there can be tactical and financial considerations to be taken into account and specialist legal advice on all the circumstances is required.

Indictable Only Offences

Indictable only offences are the most serious offences and can only be dealt with in the Crown Court.

A person charged with an offence in this category must first appear before the Magistrates’ Court however the case will be immediately sent to the Crown Court to be dealt with by a Judge. If the case proceeds to a trial, the Jury will decide on a person’s innocence or guilt. It is always for the Judge to pass sentence.

Examples of Indictable only offences are Murder, Manslaughter, Robbery and Rape.

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