If you find yourself charged with a criminal offence, your first appearance in court would be before the local Magistrates’ Court. At that hearing, a decision would be made as to whether your case should remain in the Magistrates’ Court or be allocated to the Crown Court to be heard.

Which cases go to the Crown Court?

The criminal offence in question will dictate which court can hear your case. More serious offences can only be heard in the Crown Court, whilst less serious offences can be heard at the Magistrates’ Court. Some offences can be heard in either court.

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, the defendant will be expected to enter a plea to the charges against them.

If the defendant enters a plea of ‘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, the case will either be given a fixed date for a trial or alternatively the court will identify a ‘warned list’ into which the case will be entered.

What is a ‘warned list’?

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 a case is entered into a warned list, it 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.  

The defendant will normally receive notification that their trial is listed on the working day before it is due to commence, so they are obliged to keep themselves available during that two week period. If the case is not listed during the warned period, it will thereafter be entered into the next available warned list.

If a case is given a fixed trial date then the defendant will know exactly what day the trial will start. Once a trial starts, it continues to its conclusion.

In very complex or serious criminal cases, the court may list the case 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.

What happens during the trial?

After a criminal case is listed for trial, those involved – including the defendant and victim – attend court.  The trial takes place before a judge and jury.

Once a jury is selected and sworn in, the prosecutor will inform the jury what the case is about, then call the prosecution witnesses to give evidence that will be cross examined by a defence barrister.

Once all prosecution witnesses have given evidence then the defendant can give evidence, followed by any prosecution 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 informs the jury of the relevant law in relation to the charges.

Once these summaries are complete, the jury will retire the consider their verdicts and make a decision as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

What happens after the trial?

If the defendant is found not guilty of committing the criminal offence, they will be discharged from the court and the case is brought to a conclusion.

If the defendant is found guilty, the court can either sentence them straight away, having heard from their barrister in mitigation. Otherwise, sentencing 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.

This guide is intended to give general information only and is 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. 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.