Criminal courts

Magistrates' courts

All criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court.

Cases are heard by either:

  • 2 or 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:

  • burglary
  • drugs offences

These are called ‘either way’ offences and can be heard either in a magistrates’ court or a Crown Court.

Find your local magistrates’ court.

Cases that magistrates pass to the Crown Court

Magistrates’ courts always pass the most serious crimes to the Crown Court, eg:

  • murder
  • rape
  • robbery

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.