Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate at London Criminal Defence Solicitors, Lawtons, discusses the Crown Court procedure and process under UK law.
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, while 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 this case you will make your first appearance in Crown Court shortly after.
What is a plea and trial preparation hearing?
You will be represented by a barrister or higher courts advocate instructed by Lawtons. The 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 you enter 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 special list into which the case will be entered.
What is a ‘warned list’ in UK law?
A ‘warned list’ or ‘Crown Court 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.
When will Crown Court listed cases be held?
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.
You will normally receive notification that you trial is listed on the working day before it is due to commence, so you are obliged to keep yourself 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 you will know exactly which 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 are the Crown Court trial stages of procedure?
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 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 to consider their verdicts and make a decision as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
What happens after a Crown Court trial?
If you are found not guilty of committing the criminal offence, you will be discharged from the court and the case brought to a conclusion.
If you are found guilty, the court may sentence you straight away, having heard from your 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.
About the author
Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, is a dedicated criminal solicitor with considerable experience in legal cases involving sexual offences, violence and assault. Nick’s measured and methodical approach means he thrives on even the most complex case.
Nick also oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.
How long does a Crown Court trial last?
There is no set length for a trial, nor is it possible to accurately predict how long a Crown Court trial will take. However, length tends to be determined by the complexity of a case. Where relatively straightforward cases take no more than a few days, other cases can take several weeks or even months.
The standard jury service period in the UK is two weeks. While jurors may be required to serve for much longer than this, it indicates that Crown Court trials are not usually expected to exceed two weeks in length.
How long does it take for a case to go to Crown Court?
It is impossible to predict how long a case will take to go to any court – however, on average it can take up to six months for a case to go to magistrates’ court and up to a year for a case to reach Crown Court. In 2017/18 the average time between a case being sent up to Crown Court and the beginning of hearings was 19.2 weeks.
What does ‘for mention’ mean in a Crown Court trial?
A case is listed for mention if there is an administrative matter to be ruled upon before the main trial can proceed (or proceed any further). For example, the judge may need to rule whether a certain piece of evidence can be used in court. Mentions for cases are usually dealt with quickly and often take no longer than one sitting. A case which is ready to proceed without mention would be listed as ‘for hearing’.
Where a case is described as for mention, it will also be specified who needs to attend the mentioning – whether all parties, the defendant or otherwise. This is where a phrase such as ‘for mention (defendant to attend)’ or ‘for mention (all parties to attend)’ would be used.
What is a witness warning?
A witness warning is a notification by phone, email or letter that you may have to attend court as a witness. It is not a summons in itself but means that you should be prepared to go to court and will be kept up to date with the progress of the case.