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Depending on the type of crime you have committed, you will either have a trial in the Magistrates' Court or Crown Court. To find out the court trial process for different courts, click on the relevant button below.
A Magistrates’ Court trial is overseen by two or three lay Magistrates or by a single District Judge.
In general terms, hearings begin with the prosecution opening their case against you or your business. The prosecution will normally provide a summary of their case, how they say an offence has been committed and how they intend to prove their case. The prosecution will then call their witnesses and introduce any other evidence that they rely upon to try and prove the case against you or your business. The witnesses who give oral evidence can then be cross-examined by your solicitor or barrister.
Once all the prosecution evidence has been produced before the court, the prosecution case will be closed. Your solicitor or barrister may then be able to make a submission to the court that there is no case to answer, if it can be shown the prosecution has failed to prove their case. If the court agrees, the case will be dismissed and a costs application can be made. If the submission of no case to answer is not made or is unsuccessful, your defence case will then be presented.
You, as the defendant in the case, are normally the first person to give evidence. Although you may decide not to give evidence. Thereafter, any other evidence that you rely upon will be presented before the court. This could include, for example, defence witnesses being called to give oral evidence as they may have witnessed the alleged offence, a witness statement being read to the court or an expert being called to give evidence as they have completed forensic work in relation to exhibits in the case.
After the defence case has been presented, you then have an opportunity to make a closing speech. During this speech, your solicitor or barrister will, for example, highlight all of the inconsistencies in the prosecution case, summarise your case, draw the court’s attention to relevant facts or findings, and explain to the court why they cannot be sure that you or your business have committed an offence and, therefore, should not find you guilty.
The court will then retire to consider their verdict.
Common Sentences Imposed by the Magistrates’ Court
If convicted, the most common sentences imposed by the Magistrates’ Court include:
If a prison sentence is to be considered, a report about you will be prepared by probation to help the court make their decision. The maximum sentence that can be imposed by Magistrates’ Court is six months for one offence. However, the court can impose up to a 12-month sentence if you are to be sentenced for two or more offences.
If a prison sentence between 14 days and six months is imposed, the Magistrates’ Court may suspend the sentence for a period between six months and two years. When a sentence is suspended, the court may require one or more requirements to be undertaken by you in the community, similar to community orders.
If you fail to comply with these requirements or commit another offence during the suspension period, the Magistrates’ Court may choose to activate the suspended sentence.
Community orders are sentences within the community intended to punish, rehabilitate or ensure reparation. Activities that may be imposed in a community order include unpaid work, curfews, drug or alcohol treatment or supervision by the Probation Service.
The Magistrates’ Court can impose a fine, with the amount to be paid determined by the seriousness of the offence and your ability to pay.
An order of compensation may be considered if there has been personal injury, loss or damage as a result of the offence.
The Magistrates’ Court may decide not to impose a punishment and order an absolute or a conditional discharge. An absolute discharge will end the matter, while a conditional discharge will only impose a punishment if you commit another offence during the period of the discharge (up to three years).
Some of the other orders that can be made by Magistrates’ Court include:
- Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs)
- Confiscation orders
- Disqualification from the ownership of animals
- Disqualification from driving
- Forfeiture and destruction of drugs
- Restraining orders
- Sexual offence prevention orders
An initial hearing will be held 28 days after your appearance at the Magistrates’ Court to hear your plea - this is known as the plea and trial preparation hearing (PTPH). It may be the position that the prosecution have served insufficient evidence or that the evidence that they have served does not prove that you have committed the alleged offence. At this juncture, the court may be notified of your intention to make an application to dismiss the case against you and a separate hearing would be set for those submissions to be advanced.
If no application is made to dismiss the case, you would then be asked to enter your plea on the counts that you will now face on an indictment. If you enter a not-guilty plea, various case directions will then be set, along with a trial date. This will include, in amongst other directions, the date the prosecution must serve all their evidence and the date you are required to serve a defence statement.
When the trial starts, it will normally run until it has been heard in full and a verdict has been reached.
The Crown Court trial will be heard by a jury of 12 people who will determine whether you are guilty or not guilty once all the evidence has been presented by the prosecution and defence. A Judge will oversee proceedings and make legal rulings in the absence of the jury where necessary.
Crown Court Trials
When the trial begins in a Crown Court, the Judge will make rulings relating to any legal arguments that are put forward by the defence or prosecution.
The prosecution will commence the case by giving details to the jury about the allegations made against you. The prosecution will then call their evidence, which may include witnesses or experts to prove their case. An opportunity will be given for your barrister to cross-examine any prosecution witnesses who give oral evidence.
Various other pieces of evidence may also be presented during this time, which could include video footage, pictures, telephone records, bank statements or documents from other third parties.
Once the prosecution has presented their evidence, their case closes. Similar to the Magistrates’ Court, an application to dismiss the case may take place at this time to try and persuade the Judge that there is insufficient evidence for the jury to convict. If such an application is not made or unsuccessful, it is the turn of the defence to present their case. This is the opportunity, in amongst others, to present evidence that counters what has already been shown or heard by the jury from the prosecution and to highlight a lack of evidence or suggest that the prosecution’s evidence is incorrect, inconsistent or weak.
In addition, your defence team will present your case to the court, including all material evidence and statements from you and your witnesses. The prosecution will also be able to cross-examine you (if you give evidence) and any witnesses that you may call.
When all the evidence has been presented, closing speeches will be made. During this speech, your barrister will, for example, highlight inconsistencies in the prosecution case, summarise your case, draw the jury’s attention to relevant facts or findings, and explain why they cannot be sure that you or your business have committed an offence and, therefore, should find you not guilty.
The Judge will then summarise the evidence from the trial and provide a number of legal directions for the jury. In particular, the Judge will explain that the jury can only find you or your business guilty of the offence(s) if they are sure that it was committed.
The jury will then retire to discuss the case and decide amongst themselves whether you or your business are guilty or not guilty. In most cases, a unanimous decision will need to be made, but a majority verdict may be accepted, following direction from the Judge if all 12 jurors cannot reach a unanimous decision. If neither a unanimous nor majority decision can be reached, this is called a ‘hung jury’ and the Judge may direct that a retrial takes place.
Once the jury has made a decision, they will return to the court and confirm whether they find you or your business guilty or not guilty on each count.
Common Sentences Imposed by the Crown Court
The most common sentences imposed by the Crown Court include:
If a prison sentence is to be considered, a pre-sentence report will normally be prepared by probation to help the Judge make a decision about the length or type of sentence that you should receive. If you face more than one count on the indictment, the Judge will have to decide whether separate sentences should be given and whether these should run concurrently or consecutively.
Any sentence of 24 months or less can be suspended by the Crown Court for a period between six months and two years. When a sentence is suspended, one or more requirements may need to be undertaken by you in the community, similar to community orders.
If you fail to comply with these requirements or commit another offence during the suspension period, the Crown Court may choose to activate the suspended sentence.
Community orders are sentences within the community intended to punish, rehabilitate or ensure reparation. Activities that can be imposed in a community order include unpaid work, drug or alcohol treatment or supervision by the Probation Service.
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