Absolute and conditional discharge

Discharges are given for the least serious offences such as very minor thefts.

An absolute discharge means the court has decided not to impose a punishment because the experience of going to court has been punishment enough. The offender will still have a criminal record.

A conditional discharge means that if the offender commits another crime, they can be sentenced for the first offence and the new one.


If a defendant is acquitted of a crime they have been found ‘not guilty’ by the court.

Advisory Committee

Advisory Committees are bodies which carry out functions on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, including recruiting magistrates. The committees consist of a mixture of magistrates and lay people.

Aggravating and mitigating factors

When sentencing, considerations about the facts of the specific offence and individual offender are built into the decision-making process.

An aggravating factor is any fact or circumstance that increases the severity or culpability of a criminal act.

A mitigating factor is any fact or circumstance that decreases the severity or culpability of a criminal act.

Find a comprehensive guide to and examples of aggravating and mitigating factors here.

Ancillary orders

An ancillary order is an order imposed by the court in addition to a sentence. It might aim to redress the harm caused by an offender eg a compensation order, or to prevent future re-offending eg a criminal behaviour order.


This means a defendant will not have to go to prison before trial. Bail may have ‘conditions’ attached to it eg not to visit certain places.


In a magistrate’s court, either a district judge or two or three magistrates will sit as the ‘bench’ to hear the case. A bench is also another name for a local justice area.


The MA has 54 branches across England and Wales that represent different areas. These are run by and for MA members, and allow the organisation to operate effectively on a regional and local level.

Case Law

Case law is the collection of past legal decisions in which the law was analysed to resolve ambiguities and fill gaps to set rules for deciding current cases.


This is the crime/crimes a defendant has been accused of.

Civil Standard of Proof

In civil proceedings, the standard of proof is made on the ‘balance of probabilities’. This means that clear and convincing evidence proves that it is more likely than not that something occurred in a certain way.

Community Order

A community order is an alternative to a custodial sentence. It will consist of different requirements including requiring an offender to carry out unpaid work, stay indoors between certain times or attending rehabilitative programmes.

Community Rehabilitation Company

The private sector supplier of probation and rehabilitation services for offenders in England and Wales.


The complainant is the alleged victim in a criminal case.


If a defendant is convicted of a crime they have been found guilty by the court.

Criminal Behaviour Order

A criminal behaviour order is an order that aims to tackle the most serious and persistent anti-social behaviour that has led an individual being brought before a court. It might prohibit the offender from doing something eg visiting certain areas or it might require the offender to do something eg attend substance abuse meetings.

Criminal Standard of Proof

In criminal proceedings, crimes must be proved to have ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. This means that no person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the case is proved to have happened beyond reasonable doubt.

Crown Court

A Crown Court deals with serious criminal cases such as murder and rape. It also deals with cases passed from a magistrates’ court for trial or sentencing and appeals against a magistrates’ court conviction or sentence. A jury of 12 people selected from the general public will listen to evidence and decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. A judge will decide on matters of law and is responsible for sentencing.


The defendant is the person who has been charged with a crime

Detention Training Order

A Detention Training Order (DTO) is a custodial sentence for 12-17 year olds. It combines detention with training and is used for young people who commit a serious offence or commit a number of offences.

District Judge

A full-time employed judge who hears criminal cases, youth cases and some civil proceedings in magistrates’ courts.

Either Way Offences

Crimes that can be tried in either a magistrates’ court or a crown court. If a case is not within the sentencing powers of the magsitrates’ court, it will be sent to the Crown Court. The defendant also has the right to request trial by jury in the Crown Court.

Indictable Offences

An indictable offence is the most serious type of offense and carries the maximum sentence. It must be dealt with in Crown Court.

Judicial College

The Judicial College is responsible for training judges (including magistrates) in England and Wales.  

Legal Adviser

A legal adviser is a legally qualified official who provides legal advice to magistrates in court.


Legislation is law created by the legislature, or legislative body. The principal legislature for England and Wales is the UK Parliament. For some devolved issues, the Welsh Parliament is the legislative body.


An offender on licence will still be serving a prison sentence but living in the community instead of being in prison. Certain conditions must be followed eg maintaining a fixed address and reporting regularly to a probation officer.

Lord Chancellor

The Lord Chancellor is a member of the cabinet and is responsible for the smooth functioning and independence of the courts.


A collective term for magistrates.


A mentor is a specially trained magistrate who will help guide new magistrates during the first 12-18 months of sitting.

Presiding Justice

The presiding justice is the magistrate who sits in the centre and speaks on the bench’s behalf in court.

Pre-Sentence report

A pre-sentence report is an impartial report that gives sentences an idea of the offender’s background and the most suitable punishment for the offence committed. It takes into account the case itself as well as the offender’s suitability to carry out particular types of sentences.

Private Family Law

Private family law cases are brought by private individuals, generally in connection with divorce or parents’ separation.


Probation services advise magistrates or judges on sentencing if a defendant is convicted. They will speak to the defendant and prepare a report that includes background, history and why the crime was committed.


The prosecution are the people who say the defendant committed a crime. This is usually the Crown Prosecution Service.

Public Gallery

The public gallery is where members of the public can witness a trial or hearing in open court.

Public Family Law

Public family law cases are brought by local authorities or an authorised person and include matters such as care orders, supervision orders and emergency protection orders.

Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR)

An RAR can be included as part of a community order or a suspended sentence. It was introduced in 2014 under the Offender Rehabilitation Act to give probation service providers greater flexibility to decide the best ways to rehabilitate individuals.

Remanded in Custody

If a defendant is remanded in custody they will be sent to prison to wait for their trial or hearing.

Referral Order

A referral order is an order is available for young offenders who plead guilty to an offence. The young offender is referred to a panel of two trained community volunteers and a member of the youth offending team for a period between three and 12 months.

Single Family Court

The single Family Court, launched in 2014, allows all levels of the judiciary to work more closely together. The court has three tiers and cases can be transferred between them. A ‘gatekeeping team’ determines which level of judge a particular case will be allocated (a Magistrate, a District Judge, a Circuit Judge or a High Court Judge).

Single Justice Procedure

Some summary-only non-imprisonable offences can be dealt with by a single magistrate on the basis of the papers alone without either party having to attend court for a hearing. The alleged offender will receive a notice with information about the case including how to make a plea and whether it can be made online.

Standard of Proof

The standard of proof is the level of certainty and the degree of evidence necessary to establish legal proof.

Summary Offences

Summary offences are less serious offences such as traffic offences. They are normally heard in the magistrates’ court.

Supplemental List

When a magistrate retires, their names can be placed on the Supplemental List. Although they can no longer sit as magistrates, they are able to carry out some administrative functions such as the signing of official documents.

Suspended Sentence

When a court imposes a custodial sentence of between 14 days and two years (or six months in the magistrates’ court), the court may choose to suspend the sentence for up to two years. The offender does not go to prison immediately, but is given the chance to stay out of trouble and to comply with requirements set by the court. If they do not comply with the requirements or are convicted of another offence during the suspension period, they are likely to serve the original custodial term in addition to the sentence they receive for the new offence.


This is the decision reached by the court of whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

Victim Surcharge

If a defendant is found guilty they will have to pay a victim surcharge, even if the crime was victimless. This money helps support victims of crime.


A winger will sit on either side of the presiding justice on a magistrates’ bench. They will contribute equally to the decision-making process but will not speak in court.

Youth Offending Team

The youth offending team work with young people who are in trouble with the law. They try to help young people stay away from crime and can help at the police station, in court or after sentencing.

Youth Rehabilitation Order

A court may impose a youth rehabilitation order on a young person under the age of 18 when they are being sentenced for committing a criminal offence. It is a non-custodial community sentence with requirements that must be adhered to.