Magistrate Court Representation
If you have been charged with an offence, you will most likely have to appear in court. If you are under 18, you will be asked to attend the Youth Court. All other offences will go before the Magistrates’ Court first, and from there, may go on to be heard at a full trial (or for sentencing) at the Crown Court.
You will need expert, incisive legal advice and representation from lawyers with expertise in every kind of court setting. At Qamar Solicitors, our expert criminal lawyers can act on your behalf – whatever the offence; and help guide you through the full process – whatever court you are asked to attend. We will ensure that your interests are fully represented, and that justice is fairly carried out.
What is the Magistrates’ Court?
Magistrates’ courts are one of the oldest and most important institutions in the UK legal system. Almost every criminal trial, from the most serious offences down to driving offences and theft, begins there. There is no judge and jury at the Magistrates’ Court. Instead, there is either a panel of magistrates or a district judge who hears each case and makes a decision about how to proceed.
What happens at the Magistrates’ Court?
If you are charged with a criminal offence, the Magistrates’ Court will be your first contact with legal procedure in a formal court setting.
There is no jury, and all evidence is heard by the magistrates (or a district judge). Your lawyer will present evidence on your behalf, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will present the evidence for the prosecution. It will be up to the magistrate to decide on the facts whether or not you committed the offence. They must only convict if the case against you is proved beyond reasonable doubt.
If you are found guilty, they will impose an appropriate sentence after hearing representations from your lawyer and the CPS. If the magistrates feel their sentencing powers are insufficient they can send you to the Crown Court – which has greater sentencing powers – for sentencing.
Understanding what happens at the Magistrates’ Court is important. At Qamar Solicitors our expert criminal defence lawyers are with you every step of the way, ensuring you understand how your case is being handled, and what happens at each stage.
Three kinds of offences
One of the most important duties of the magistrates is to decide whether your offence can be tried at the Magistrates’ Court, or will need to be tried by a full trial with a judge and a jury at the Crown Court.
All offences fit into one of three categories:
- Summary offences: these are comparatively minor, such as petty theft or motoring offences, and are generally tried in the Magistrates’ Court
- Indictable offences: these are more serious offences, and can be anything from robbery, grievous bodily harm and murder. These will go to the Crown Court for a trial with a judge and jury. The Magistrates’ Court will generally decide whether to grant bail before passing it to the Crown Court
- ‘Either way’ offences: some offences could reasonably be tried in either the magistrates’ court or the crown court and are known as ‘triable either way’, for instance, theft. It is for the magistrates to decide whether the offence is to be tried by magistrates or in the Crown Court. A defendant can also insist on being tried in the Crown Court. In addition, where the magistrates decide the offence is so serious that their powers of punishment are insufficient, they will commit the case to the Crown Court for sentencing.
Who are the magistrates?
There will usually be three magistrates on the ‘bench’ and are addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. Most do not have any legal training and are known as ‘lay magistrates’. They can be drawn from across the local community representing the diversity of the population. Lay magistrates may be professionals (such as teachers and doctors), or any other individual with a desire to serve justice in their local area. Lay magistrates will always have a legal advisor to ensure they understand the details of the cases they are trying.
There are also professional, legally-trained magistrates known as district judges, who are appointed by the Government and have at least seven years’ experience in legal practice. If a district judge is overseeing the case, only one is required.
Defendants have two opportunities to apply to the magistrates for bail. However, if both are unsuccessful, you can apply to the Crown Court. At the Crown Court, a ‘Judge in Chambers’ will deal with the bail application.
What sentences can the magistrates’ courts give?
The sentences which can be handed down by the Magistrates’ Courts are fairly limited, in comparison to those that can be handed down by the Crown Court. They include:
- Prison terms of up to 6 months, or up to 12 months in total for more than one offence
- Fines of up to £5,000
- Community sentences, which might include doing unpaid work in the community such as cleaning and maintaining municipal areas
- Combinations of these sentences if appropriate, such as both a fine and community service
If the magistrates take the view a more serious punishment is appropriate it will send you to the Crown Court for sentencing.
Making an Appeal
You may be able to appeal your conviction and or sentence in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). Find out more about appealing your conviction.
How Can Qamar Solicitors Help?
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, contact the criminal defence team at Qamar Solicitors as soon as possible. We guide our clients throughout the investigation and court process helping them understand what is happening at every stage.