I’ve been charged with a criminal offence – which court will my case be heard in?
All criminal court cases start in a Magistrates Court. Depending on the crime you have been charged with, your case will either start and finish in a Magistrates Court or start in the Magistrates Court but finish in a higher court, normally the Crown Court.
Why might my case go to the Crown Court?
There are some offences for example rape or murder that are so serious that a Magistrates Court are not allowed to deal with them. If you’re charged with a serious offence you are either bailed or remanded in custody by the Magistrates court. Your case is then sent to the Crown Court straight away.
What happens if I am charged with a crime?
If you have been charged with a crime it means that the police suspect that you have been involved in the crime you have been arrested for.
What is bail?
Bail means that you are allowed to leave the custody of the police station whilst your case is being investigated further, or while you wait for your court hearing.
Are there different types of bail?
Yes – there is police bail which is given at the police station after you have been charged and,.
Court bail that is given at the court hearing at the magistrates court. Example of this is in the event your hearing is adjourned for the preparation of a report or given a future date for a trail hearing.
What does police bail mean?
It means that you are allowed to leave custody. Bail is an agreement between you and the police and can include conditions such as residing at a particular address, not to contact parties involved with the case and sometimes the surrendering of your Passport. You will also be given a new date in which you must attend either the court or return to the police station.
Can bail be refused?
Yes, in some cases. You are unlikely to be granted bail if you are charged with a serious offence (e.g armed robbery) or have been convicted of a serious crime in the past. The other reasons that you may not be granted bail are if the police think that you may not go to court for your hearing, or if they believe that you may commit further offences whilst on bail, or if you have a history of not attending court when you were required to do so. Bail is a complex area and one that we recommend you seek professional legal advice in all cases.
What is the procedure at the Magistrates Court?
The Magistrates’ court will consist of either 2 or 3 Magistrates (or sometimes known as Justices). They are not lawyers or have any legal qualifications, but are carefully advised by the court legal advisor who is professionally qualified. Sometimes a District Judge will sit in the Magistrates court. He or she is either a qualified solicitor or barrister and normally deals with the more complex cases. Some Magistrates court have resident District Judges who frequently sit at the same court, particularly if they are busy courts.
Can I have a solicitor represent me at court?
If you do not have your own appointed solicitor you may be able to use the court duty solicitor. He or she is contracted to the Legal Aid Agency to advise and assist people in the Magistrates court who do not have their own solicitor. This service is free, independent from the police and Crown Prosecution Service and confidential, but you can only use the court duty solicitor for your first appearance at court. Thereafter, the duty solicitor will discuss with you about applying for legal aid to pay for future legal assistance (should your case go that far). Importantly, due to strict guidelines and financial constraints set by the government the Duty solicitor can only deal with certain cases at the Magistrates court. The duty solicitor will explain these to you, but as a general guidance, if there is a risk of custody or the offence is particularly serious then the duty solicitor can assist. For example, simple motoring offences (i.e speeding or drink-driving – unless an exceptionally high breath reading – would not be covered by the duty scheme). However, feel free to discuss this with the duty solicitor and should you require legal assistance that is not covered by the duty scheme then a private funding arrangement can be organised.
Please see our separate pages on Legal Aid and table of Fixed Fees for more information concerning funding.