All criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court. Over 90% will be completed there
Who’s Who in the Criminal Court?
If the case is being heard in open court, the bench will consist of two or three magistrates or one district judge.
The Legal Adviser
The Legal Adviser sits in front of the magistrates. They will read out the charge and ask the defendant to enter a plea. They provide the magistrates with legal advice, and help ensure the court runs smoothly.
The court usher will call a defendant into court.
The Crown Prosecutor (CPS)
The Crown Prosecutor presents the facts of the offence to the court.
The Defence Solicitor
The solicitor will speak on behalf of the defendant in court. Unrepresented defendants may be represented by the Duty Solicitor.
Probation or Youth Offending Team
A probation officer will be present in adult court, providing advice to the court and preparing a pre-sentence report where appropriate.
A representative from the Youth Offending Team may be present in the youth court. They provide information about the defendant and will prepare a pre-sentence report.
What cases are dealt with in the criminal magistrates’ court?
A magistrates’ court will hear all summary only offences. These include:
It can also deal with some more serious offences, known as ‘either way’ offences. These can either be heard in a magistrates’ court or be sent up to Crown Court if defendants elect to have a jury trial, or the bench believe a likely sentence would be outside their maximum sentencing level.
You can see a complete list of cases dealt with in the magistrates’ court here.
The Crown Court deal with all indictable offences such as murder, rape and robbery. Normally, the first hearing for these cases will be in a magistrates’ court before they are sent to the Crown Court.
What do magistrates do in the criminal court?
Magistrates listen carefully to all evidence and decide:
What sentences can a magistrates’ court give?
The court can order either one or a combination of the following:
If the court decides a custodial sentence of more than 6 months is necessary, the case will be sent to the Crown Court for sentencing.
How are sentences in the magistrates’ court decided?
Magistrates follow a decision-making process set out in sentencing guidelines from the Sentencing Council as well as any relevant case law to reach a just sentence which is appropriate to the specific circumstances of the case, and the individual being sentenced.
The guidelines provide a starting point and sentencing range depending on the categories of culpability and harm. The magistrates should then consider the effect of any aggravating or mitigating factors (which can relate to the offence or be specific to the offender). These might include:
The bench will also take into account any guilty plea, and whether any ancillary orders are required
If the likely sentence is to be a community penalty or a prison sentence then the bench should ask the probation service to prepare a pre-sentencing report (PSR) that might contain:
There are five purposes of sentencing:
Although all five may be seen as potentially appropriate in a particular case, sentencers must include a punitive element unless it would be unjust to do so.
Once the bench have agreed the appropriate sentence, the presiding justice will make the pronouncement in court, which will include the reasons why this sentence is being given.
The MA has its own dedicated Adult Court Committee with members who are experienced specialists in the area.
If you are attending criminal court as a victim, defendant or a witness, please visit our list of useful resources where you will find more information.