All criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court.
Cases are heard by either:
- 3 magistrates
- a district judge
There isn’t a jury in a magistrates’ court.
Cases a magistrates’ court deals with
A magistrates’ court normally handles cases known as ‘summary offences’, eg:
- most motoring offences
- minor criminal damage
- being drunk and disorderly
It can also deal with some of the more serious offences, eg:
- drugs offences
These are called ‘either way’ offences and can be heard either in a magistrates’ court or a Crown Court.
Cases that magistrates pass to the Crown Court
Magistrates’ courts always pass the most serious crimes to the Crown Court, eg:
These are known as ‘indictable offences’.
Being kept in custody or granted bail
In some cases, the magistrates court decides if you should be:
- kept in custody - eg a police or court cell
- granted ‘bail’, and let out on strict conditions - eg to keep away from named places or people
This may happen if:
- another court hearing is needed
- the court needs more information before passing sentence
- your case is passed to the Crown Court for trial or sentencing
Sentences a magistrates’ court can give
The court can give punishments including:
- up to 6 months in prison (or up to 12 months in total for more than one offence)
- a fine of up to £5,000
- a community sentence, like doing unpaid work in the community
Courts can also give a combination of punishments - eg a fine and unpaid work in the community.
If the court decides your sentence should be for longer than 6 months, it can pass your case to the Crown Court for sentencing.
Appealing a sentence or conviction
If you disagree with the magistrate court’s verdict, you may be able to appeal.