The Magistrates’ Court Process
If you are over 18 and being tried for a crime in England or Wales, the process always begins at the (Magistrate’s Court). The nature and seriousness of the offence you have been accused of will determine whether your case goes on to be handled at the Magistrates’ Court or whether it is referred to the (Crown Court).
You will find out that you will be required to appear at the Magistrates’ Court either when you receive a court summons through the post or when you are charged by the police at the police station and either released on bail or held in custody until the date of your court appearance.
Representation at the Magistrates’ Court
As a leading criminal defence firm, located on Corporation Street opposite Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, we defend many clients in Birmingham city centre. However, we can also provide our expert defence services for a wide range of criminal charges in locations including Warwickshire, Worcester and Wolverhampton.
As soon as you are arrested or receive a court summons, it’s important to contact the experienced criminal defence solicitors at Purcell Parker to get the best advice from the start to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.
Who is in charge at the Magistrates’ Court?
Unlike at the Crown Court where trials are presided over by a judge and tried by a jury, cases at the Magistrates’ Court are heard by Magistrates. There are usually three, including a chairperson. Magistrates work on a voluntary basis and are guided by a legal advisor who is there to make sure the correct procedures are followed. There will also be a court clerk who will deal with the administrative side of the hearing.
Magistrates give up their free time to hear cases in their community and they are not paid. They have to be over 16 and under 65 when they start their training and they are expected to serve for at least five years.
Although they receive training, Magistrates are not qualified legal professionals, which is why they refer more serious cases to the Crown Court. Cases that are often handled by Magistrates include:
- Motoring offences
- Theft charges
- Handling stolen goods
- Minor assaults
- Minor drug offences
Certain offences, including some assaults, drug offences and motoring crimes are known as either way offences, which means that Magistrates can decide if they should be heard in the Magistrates’ Court or at the Crown Court.
What powers do magistrates have?
Magistrates can impose fines, unpaid community work and prison sentences of up to 6 months (or 12 months for more than one crime). In indictable-only offences, which is the legal term for serious offences such as rape, murder and robbery, Magistrates will also decide whether the accused should be kept in custody or released on bail under certain conditions.
What happens when I appear in the Magistrates’ Court?
Although there is no jury at a Magistrates’ Court, the hearing will take place in public. First of all, the court clerk will ask you to confirm your name and address. How the process works from then on will depend on the seriousness of the offence you have been charged with.
Summary-only offence is the term used to describe the least serious offences that are heard in the Magistrates’ Court. The clerk will read out the charge against you and ask if you plead guilty or not guilty. Based on the advice you will have received in advance of the trial from Purcell Parker, you will enter your plea at this point.
If you plead not guilty the case will be adjourned to a later date. This happens in order to give both your criminal defence solicitor and the prosecution time to prepare their case for trial and arrange for witnesses to give evidence.
If you plead guilty to a summary offence on the advice of your solicitor, you will usually be sentenced on the same day.
If there is a possibility that the charges against you should be heard at the Crown Court, again, you will be asked whether you plead guilty or not guilty. At this point, again on the advice of your experienced legal representative, you can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or refuse to enter a plea at all.
If you make a plea of not guilty or do not enter a plea, your criminal defence lawyer and the prosecuting lawyer will give their opinions on whether the trial should continue at the Magistrates’ Court or be referred to the Crown Court. This happens in situations where the court decides the charges are too serious to be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court. However, if the Magistrates accept the case, you will be asked if you are happy with that decision or whether you would rather be tried by jury in the Crown Court. Again, it is advisable to listen to the advice of your legal team on this matter.
If you plead guilty to an either-way offence, the court will listen to information provided by the defence and prosecution in order to decide whether they are able to sentence the crime. If it’s decided that the offence warrants a punishment more severe than the maximum imposable by a Magistrates’ Court of 6 months for one crime or 12 months for more than one, the case will be sent to the Crown Court for sentencing.
If you have been accused of committing a serious offence like robbery, rape or murder, your case will automatically be heard at the Crown Court. However, the first part of this process involves an appearance at the Magistrates’ Court. During this appearance your case will automatically be sent to the Crown Court whether you are pleading guilty or not.
What happens at a Magistrates’ Court trial?
If you plead not guilty and your case is being tried at the Magistrates’ Court, you will return for your trial on the appointed date. The trial will proceed as follows:
- The prosecution will summarise the case against you.
- The prosecution will call their witnesses. All witnesses will have already given witness statements, but these can only be used as evidence if your defence solicitor agrees they are accurate. Otherwise, the witness has to give evidence in court by answering the questions of the prosecution under oath.
- The witness can then be cross-examined by the defence solicitor.
- When the prosecution finish calling witnesses they say that their case is closed.
- At this point if the defence believe the prosecution has not brought enough evidence to court to show the alleged offence took place, they may be able to argue that there is no case to answer. If this argument is successful, the case will be stopped and you will be found not guilty.
- Otherwise, it is now the defence team’s turn to present their case. You, the defendant will be the first person to give evidence, followed by any other defence witnesses.
- If you have no previous convictions, you may have a character witness to demonstrate that you are not the type of person to commit the offence you have been accused of.
- Your solicitor will make a closing speech designed to make your case and demonstrate inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case in order to persuade the court that you are not guilty.
- The magistrates will retire to consider their verdict.
Sentencing at the Magistrates’ Court
Purcell Parker’s experienced criminal defence solicitors will work hard to make sure you receive the best possible outcome for your case. In cases where it is impossible for this to mean a not guilty verdict the following is possible:
In some cases, the court may decide not to impose a sentence. An absolute discharge means that the matter is at end and a conditional discharge means you will not receive a punishment if you do not commit another crime within a certain time frame.
You may be issued with a fine, the amount of which will depend on the severity of your offence and your ability to pay it. You may also be liable for paying compensation in situations where your offence has caused injury or loss of, or damage to, the property of someone else.
The magistrates may sentence you to a community order as a punishment and sometimes as a method of rehabilitation. Community orders can include unpaid work in the community, supervision by the Probation Service and making a commitment to take part in a drugs or alcohol treatment programme.
When magistrates impose a prison sentence of between 14 days and 6 months they may choose to suspend the sentence for up to two years. This means that instead of going to prison, you will be subject to meeting certain conditions such as doing unpaid work in the community, taking part in an alcohol or drugs rehabilitation programme and/or staying away from a certain person or place. If you fail to meet these conditions, your custodial sentence will be imposed.
If the magistrates decide that they may need to impose a prison sentence, they will adjourn the case while a report is prepared about you to be used as part of the decision-making process about whether a custodial sentence is appropriate and if so, how long it should be. The minimum you can be imprisoned for is 5 days and the maximum is 6 months (or 12 months for more than one offence).
Committal to Crown Court for sentencing
If you are found guilty in the Magistrates’ Court of an either-way offence, it’s possible that the Magistrates will refer you to the Crown Court for sentencing if they feel you may deserve a longer prison sentence than the maximum they are able to impose.
What else can the court do?
Magistrates can also make further orders including restraining orders, confiscation orders, anti-social behaviour orders, disqualifications from driving, sexual offence prevention orders, football match banning orders and disqualification from the ownership of animals.
Can I appeal my Magistrates’ Court sentence?
Yes. Everyone has the automatic right to appeal a conviction made at the Magistrates’ Court within 21 days of being sentenced. Your criminal defence solicitor will advise you whether you have grounds to appeal and if so, how you should proceed.
Magistrates’ Court defence in Birmingham and the West Midlands
As soon as you are aware you will be standing trial in the Magistrates’ Court, call Purcell Parker for free initial advice on 0121 236 9781. If appropriate, we will be able to provide legal aid and where this is not an option we may be able to offer you a competitive fixed fee quote for your legal representation.
All criminal cases begin at the Magistrates’ Court and many are tried there too. Purcell Parker’s highly experienced solicitors and barristers can represent you in Birmingham city centre and at Magistrates’ Courts across the West Midlands.