What happens in a magistrates’ court?
What is a magistrate?
A magistrate is a volunteer from the local area who is trained to deal with less serious criminal cases. The cases are considered by 2 or 3 magistrates or a district judge. A district judge is a lawyer.
There is no jury in a magistrates’ court.
What kind of cases are heard in a magistrates’ court?
All cases start in a magistrates’ court. Most of them are completed in a magistrates’ court but more serious criminal cases go to the Crown Court.
Certain types of cases, known as ‘summary offences’, are completed in a magistrates’ court. Here are some examples:
- Most motoring offences
- Minor criminal damage
- Common assault (not causing significant injury)
Some cases are called ‘either-way offences’ because they can be heard in a magistrates’ court or a Crown Court. Examples of ‘either-way offences’ include burglary and drug offences.
The more serious criminal cases known as ‘indictable offences’ start in a magistrates’ court and are handed over to the Crown Court. Examples of ‘indictable offences’ include murder, rape and robbery.
What happens on the day in a magistrates’ court?
In some cases, a decision will be made about your hearing. If the court decides you are not guilty, you will be free to go. If the court decides that you are guilty, you will receive a punishment.
In some situations, you could be kept in custody or released on bail. This could happen if:
- Another court hearing is required
- The court wants more information before making a decision
- Your case is handed over to the Crown Court
If you are released on bail, there may be rules you have to follow. These strict rules could be to stay away from certain people and/or places, remain indoors and/or to wear an electronic tag. If you are on bail and do not attend court, you could be put in prison.
What kind of sentences can be given at a magistrates’ court?
A sentence (in the legal world) is a punishment ordered by the court. The sentence will depend on each case. There are a number of factors that magistrates and district judges will think about in order to reach a decision about a suitable punishment such as protecting the public, the facts of the case and the sentencing guidelines.
A magistrates’ court can give punishments including:
- Up to 6 months in prison (or up to 12 months in total for more than one offence)
- A fine
- Community service
- A ban (e.g. on driving or keeping an animal)
The sentence could also be a mixture of punishments. If the court decides that the prison sentence should be for longer than 6 months, it can pass the case to the Crown Court for sentencing.
This information has been based on https://www.gov.uk/courts.