If you are facing an offence which is deemed ‘either-way’, this means you can choose to have your matter heard in either the Magistrates or Crown Court.
What’s the difference between the Magistrates and Crown Court?
- Sentencing powers: The Crown Court have higher sentencing powers, whereas the Magistrates Court are limited
- Jury: The Crown Court will have a jury present at a trial. A Jury is made up of 12 members of the public who are selected to watch the case and determine guilt. At a Magistrates Court there is no Jury, only the two or three Magistrates
- Judge: At the Crown Court, there is one judge, either a Recorder, Circuit or High Court Judge. The Judge is legally trained, either as a Barrister or a Solicitor prior to being a judge. Whereas the Magistrates are volunteers that have limited legal experience.
Court process – what to expect
Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing (PTPH)
Should your matter be sent to the Crown Court for trial, your first hearing is the ‘PTPH’. The purpose of this hearing is to ensure that all relevant and necessary steps have been taken to prepare for trial. The Judge is required to manage the case and ensure both the Defence and Prosecution have a clear timetable to comply with set stages. This is to make sure that the case is progressing correctly.
At this hearing, a trial date is normally fixed and the defence team will continue to work towards this date.
If you are having a Crown Court trial, you will be represented by a Barrister. Depending on the seriousness of the case, a member of King’s Counsel may be instructed (depending on the funding of the matter) as well as a Junior Barrister to ensure that your matter is adequately managed. You will also have a solicitor who will work alongside the Barristers to ensure that your matter is properly prepared for trial.
A Crown Court trial involves the following steps:
- Prosecution will open the case and present any witnesses.
- Prosecution experts, such as doctor reports, or drug expert assessments.
- Cross examination of both witnesses and experts (cross-examination means your Barrister questions witnesses / experts on their findings).
- Defence opens their case and present any witness.
- Defence experts and cross-examination by Prosecution of defence witnesses / experts.
- Prosecution and Defence closing speeches.
- Jury retires and draw a conclusion.
Potential Crown Court outcomes / sentences
If you are found not guilty this means you have not been convicted of the crime in question and as such, are free to leave court. All bail conditions will be removed.
A community order is issued with specific conditions that need to be followed. These requirements differ depending on each individual and the offence, however, a community order can last for up to three years. Requirements tend to be:
- Supervision – regular appointments with probation.
- Unpaid work – ranging from 40-300 hours, and assisting with the community.
- Curfew – the court can order you to wear a tag, which can be electronically or GPS monitored.
- Drug rehabilitation requirement – assists individuals struggling with drug misuse. This order can last between six months to three years.
- Alcohol treatment – assists individuals struggling with alcohol issues. This programme can again last from six months to three years.
- Rehabilitation activity requirement – requires individuals to undertake training or education, which leads to qualifications.
Should a judge sentence you to two years or less they can be addressed by the Defence as to whether it is appropriate that this sentence be suspended. If suspended this means you will not go to prison immediately but must comply with probation and other requirements attached. Should this order be breached, the Judge can activate the suspended sentence meaning that you would go to prison for the original time set by the judge, as well as being sentenced for any new offences if they have occurred. It can be argued on your behalf that it would be unjust to activate the suspended sentence to try to dissuade a Judge from this course of action.
The Crown Court has the power to impose any length custodial sentence, whether this be a year or a life sentence. The Judge is given sentence guidelines which set out their sentencing powers for the majority of offences.
Questions and answers
How long does a Crown Court trial last?
This depends on the extent of the case. Some simple cases may last a few days, whilst serious or complicated cases such as murder may last four to six weeks or longer. You will be advised as to how long your trial will last accordingly.
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 dressing smartly if possible.