What to do if you are sent to the Magistrates Court


11 July 2023

By Sabina Theobald

Have you been charged with a criminal offence? Then your first appearance will always take place in the Magistrates Court, no matter what offence you have been charged with.

About the magistrates

The magistrates are not judges and do not have to be legally qualified, but they do receive training before being able to sit as a magistrate. A legal advisor will provide advice to the magistrates and make sure that the magistrates follow the correct processes and procedures.

The Magistrates Court can deal with ‘summary-only’ and ‘either-way’ offences, but not ‘indictable only’. Indictable-only offences are those of a

serious nature such as murder or rape and must be heard at the Crown Court. More minor offences such as common assault are known as summary-only offences. Should you be charged with an indictable-only offence, the first appearance will take place at the Magistrates Court but transferred to the Crown Court for trial or sentencing as the magistrates will have insufficient sentencing powers. Either- way offences can be dealt with either at the Magistrates or Crown Court.

Other minor offences such as assault, traffic offences and shoplifting are likely to be dealt with by the magistrates.

Court process

Court summons

A summons is normally sent in the post, and it will state a date, time and location where you must attend. It will also provide the alleged offences. Should you receive one of these, it is vital that you contact us at the earliest opportunity to ensure representation can be arranged.

First appearance

On the first hearing, you will be expected to identify yourself and indicate your plea; guilty or not guilty. You will be advised as to the strengths and weaknesses of the Prosecution’s case against you. Your full instructions will be taken, and advice will be given whether you should plead guilty or not guilty.

Should you plead guilty, the magistrates may proceed with the case if possible. This may mean you could be sentenced immediately, or the matter could be adjourned for a pre-sentence report from probation. However, should the magistrates feel they have insufficient sentencing powers then the matter will be transferred to the Crown Court.

Should you plead not guilty, the magistrates will again deicide if they feel they have the adequate powers to deal with the matter. Should they feel they do, a trial date will be set at the Magistrates Court.

What happens at a Magistrates Court trial

Have you been charged with a criminal offence and given a Magistrates Court Trial date? It’s important to be aware of the process of a trial and ensure you have instructed solicitors to assist you throughout the case.

  1. The Prosecution will provide a summary of the case against you, which may include witness statements and exhibits.

Although, witnesses may have provided statements, these are not presented to the court unless you and your legal team agree with the contents. Should you disagree with any witness statements, your solicitor will have the chance to ‘cross-examine’ the witness. This means, that the solicitor will be able to ask the witness questions live in court in front of the magistrates court to establish the truth.

  1. Your police interview will be read/played to the court, and the Prosecution will close their case.
  2. Your solicitor will then present your case to the magistrates and call any relevant witnesses. All witnesses may be ‘cross-examined’ by the Prosecution. You may be able to give live evidence should the solicitor advise this to be necessary, and the Prosecution may cross-examine yourself in relation to the offences.
  3. The Defence solicitors will then give a closing speech to the court, and draw the magistrates attention to any inconsistencies within the Prosecution’s case.
  4. The Magistrates will leave the court to discuss the verdict.

Throughout the process of the trial, your defence solicitor is present to ensure that the Prosecution is acting in accordance with the legal guidelines, and that your instructions are heard adequately.

Questions and Answers

  • How long does a Magistrates Court trial last? This differs from case to case. Some trials may last a few hours, whilst others may last a few days. This depends on the amount of evidence, witnesses etc.
  • What should I bring with me to trial? Any relevant documentation, or evidence. Food or water, and a book or other light entertainment as there is often a lot of waiting time.
  • Can I bring someone with me? Yes, you are allowed to bring a friend or family member for support.
  • What should I wear? It is important to present yourself well, therefore we recommend stressing smartly if possible.

Gepp Solicitors are highly experienced criminal defence lawyers. Please do not hesitate to contact us on criminal@gepp.co.uk  or 01245 493939.