Criminal Courts And Lay People
Criminal trials take place in either the magistrates’ courts or the crown courts. Summary offences:
These are the least serious offences and are heard in the magistrates’ court. They include assault, battery, most driving offences such as driving without insurance and minor criminal damage up to the value of £5.000 Either-way offences:
These are middle of the range offences such as theft or ABH and can be tried in the magistrates’ court by a magistrate or in the crown court heard by a judge and jury. They are determined by the ‘mode of trial’ procedure, this is where the defendant can choose to have the trial heard in magistrates or crown court. Indictable offences:
These are the most serious offences such as murder, rape, manslaughter and armed robbery. These cases must be heard in the crown court but there is always a first hearing in the magistrates court which will transfer the case to the crown court. Magistrates Courts:
These are found in most towns and consist of a bench of 3 magistrates, one chair and two wingers. They hear all summary offences and most either-way offences. Magistrates decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty, and can impose a punishment if the defendant is convicted although their powers are limited to 6 months’ imprisonment and/or a £5.000 fine. Magistrates courts also deal with the early stages of criminal offences and bail applications although if the offence is indictable it is automatically transferred to the crown court. Magistrates can also deal with youths in youth court although this is specialised. Magistrates can issue arrest and search warrants and if the offence is either-way they will hear the ‘mode of trial’ to decide on the court. Magistrates may also send a case to the crown court for sentencing if they feel that the defendant needs a more severe sentencing than they can give. Crown Courts
These are found in larger towns and cities and hear either-way offences which are sent from magistrates’ court or indictable offences. A judge presides over all cases and passes a sentence; there is no limit to the sentence they can give, although a jury will decide if a defendant is guilty or not guilty. Crown courts can sentence those sent from magistrates court and will also hear appeals from the magistrates court against sentencing.
Original and Appellate Courts
* Original courts, also known as trial courts or courts of first instance, hear evidence for the first time, this can be the magistrates court or the crown court. * Appellate courts hear appeals from original courts, these consist of the crown court, the queen’s bench division, the court of appeal and the supreme court.
Appeals After A Hearing In Magistrates Court
When a defendant is found guilty they can appeal to the crown court where the case will be heard by a judge and two magistrates. The crown court can then confirm the conviction, overturn it or find the defendant guilty of a less serious offence. Crown court can increase or decrease the sentence or let it stand. When it is thought that a magistrate has gotten the law wrong the prosecution or defence can appeal ‘by way of case stated’ to the Queen’s bench division of the high court. Magistrates are requires to ‘state the case’ this is explaining the facts and the reason for their decision. The QBD can then confirm the decision, reverse it or send it back for the magistrates to reconsider. The final possible way to appeal is to the Supreme Court, this will only be allowed when there is an important point of law to be decided.
Appeals after a hearing in the Crown Court
After a crown court trial the defendant is able to appeal to the Court of Appeal against the conviction, sentence or both. The CA can overturn the defendants conviction or reduce it to a conviction of a lesser offence, For example: R V Martin 2001, a farmers conviction of murder was changed to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility....
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