GUIDE TO THE COURT  -  A quick explanation about some common terms

On this page we give you some basic information about what to expect in Court and some commonly used 'legal terms.'

Who will be in Court?

Most cases heard in the Magistrates Court (as the name suggests) are heard by Magistrates.  Magistrates comprise benches of two or three people and in the Magistrates Court,  the Magistrates make decisions about facts and law.  Magistrates are not legally trained, and they are assisted by the Court Clerk - or Legal Adviser, who will sit in front of the Magistrates and advise them on the law as necessary.  Cases in the Magistrates Court are also heard by District Judges, who are legally trained.  In certain circumstances, the Court Clerk (or Legal Adviser) can deal with your case without the presence of the Magistrates or District Judge, under their delegated powers.

 

The Prosecuting Authority (usually but not always the Crown Prosecution Service) will have a Prosecutor in Court, who will assist the Court with the facts of the case and any other relevant material, such as objections to the grant of bail, or previous convictions.

 

Usually (but not always), the Defendant (the person appearing in Court) will be represented by a Solicitor or Barrister. 

 

The Lawyers for the defence and prosecution will sit at the front of the Court whilst your case is being heard.

 

Other persons in the Court system are Probation Officers, who might be needed to assist where cases reach the point of sentence and the Usher (sometimes called the List Caller) who is largely responsible for ensuring that the Court schedule runs smoothly.

 

 

 

 

Credit

In Court, the word 'credit' has a particular meaning.  Credit is a reduction in sentence to reflect an early guilty plea.  Full credit - for a guilty plea entered at the first 'reasonable' opportunity (usually the first hearing for 'summary' or 'either way' offences) is around one third.  In some circumstances, 'credit' can make a substantial difference to the 'sentence' or punishment received by a defendant. 

 

Credit diminishes as a matter proceeds through the Court system.  Credit for a guilty plea entered on the day of trial is around one tenth.

 

There is no definitive mathematical equation for working out 'credit.'   For more information, see the 'Sentencing Guidelines Council' website.

 

Summary Only, Either Way and Indictable Only

There are three categories of criminal offences in England and Wales.

 

(1) Summary Only Offences

The first category are known as 'Summary Only' matters.

There are offences which can only be tried in the Magistrates Court.  There is no right (at first instance) to ask that the case is moved to a 'Higher' Court.

 

Examples of matters that are Summary only are:

Assault by Beating

Offences charged under Sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986

Driving with Excess Alcohol

Driving Whilst Disqualified

Obstructing a Police officer in the execution of his or her duty

 

(2) Either Way Offences

The second category are offences which are 'either way.'  In simple terms, this means such offences can either be tried in the Magistrates Court or in the Crown Court.

 

Examples of either way offences are:

Theft

Fraud

Assault Occassioning Actual Bodily Harm

Breach of Non-Molestation Order

Burglary

 

Whenever an 'either way' offence is charged and heard before the Magistrates Court, the Magistrates conduct a hearing known as a 'Plea Before Venue.'

 

This means that the defendant enters their plea (i.e. guilty, not guilty or no indication as to plea) and the Court then decides whether the matter is suitable for summary trial.

 

NOT GUILTY PLEAS

The main determinative factor is whether the Magistrates Court has sufficient sentencing powers.  The Magistrates Court has a maximum sentencing power of 6 months custody where one either way offence is charged or 12 months in custody if two either way matters are put.

 

If the Magistrates consider that their powers are insufficient, they will 'decline jurisdiction' and the matter will be adjourned for a Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing in the Crown Court.

 

If the Magistrates consider that their powers are sufficient, they will 'accept jurisdiction.'  At that stage, the defendant has the right to 'elect' or 'choose' whether the matter should remain in the Magistrates Court or proceed to the Crown Court.  This is known as 'electing Crown Court trial.'  If the defendant 'elects' Crown Court trial, the matter will be adjourned for a Plea and Trial Preparation hearing in the Crown Court. 

 

If the defendant accepts summary trial, the matter is likely to be adjourned for a trial hearing on a later date.  In certain very limited circumstances, the Court can proceed to hear the matter immediately, although this is unusual.

 

GUILTY PLEAS

Where the Defendant pleads guilty to one or more either way offences, the Magistrates will consider whether their sentencing powers are sufficient.  If it is a case likely to attract in excess of 9 months custody (allowing for credit), the Magistrates might commit (which means send) the matter to the Crown Court for sentence.  

 

 

(3) Indictable Only Offences

The third group of offences are those that can only be tried in the Crown Court.

Whatever offence is charged, there is always one hearing in the Magistrates Court.  However, there are certain offences which must proceed directly to the Crown Court.

Such offences include:

 

Murder

GBH with Intent

Robbery

Aggravated Burglary

Kidnap

Conspiracy

Arson with Intent

 

 

Bail

This word is most often used as a generic term and is used inter-changeably to mean, 'not remanded in custody,' or, 'subject to criminal investigation or proceedings.'

 

Being 'on bail' means that a person is required to attend at either the Police Station or Court on a future date in relation to Criminal Proceedings.

 

Persons who are remanded in custody will most usually want their Solicitor to make a 'Bail Application,' on their behalf.  This is an application to the Court with a view to 'securing bail' or put simply, to being released from custody.

 

Bail Conditions

This refers to certain obligations that can be attached to 'bail.'

 

The most common examples are:

Residence at a particular address

Curfew between certain hours

Reporting to a Police Station at defined intervals

Not to contact a particular person or group of people

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT NONE OF THE ABOVE IS DESIGNED TO REPLACE DIRECT AND PERSONAL LEGAL ADVICE.  EVERY CRIMINAL CASE IS DIFFERENT.  THERE IS NO GENERAL ADVICE THAT CAN BE GIVEN.  THE ABOVE IS NOTHING MORE THAN AN ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN - IN GENERAL TERMS - SOME OF THE COMMON EXPRESSIONS YOU MIGHT COME ACROSS IN COURT.  IF YOU HAVE BEEN ARRESTED OR CHARGED OR SUMMONSED TO APPEAR IN COURT, DO NOT RELY ON THIS INFORMATION.  YOU SHOULD SEEK SPECIFIC LEGAL ADVICE.  PLEASE SEE OUR DISCLAIMER.

 

 

Fitzgerald Solicitors is Authorised and Regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority Firm Number 553427.

 

 

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Fitzgerald Solicitors is Authorised and Regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority Firm Number 553427.

 

 

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© Coral Fitzgerald