Old Bailey Solicitors

Understanding Court Proceedings: Summary Only vs. Either-way Offences

‘Summary only’ and ‘Either-way’ offences

All criminal cases start off in the Magistrates’ Court.  Very serious cases, such as murder or robbery, can only be dealt with in the Crown Court.  Those offences are called ‘Indictable Only’ offences and there is a separate fact sheet to explain them.  Most offences are either ‘Summary Only’ offences or ‘Either-way’ offences.  Summary only offences can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court and cannot usually be dealt with in the Crown Court.  Either-way offences can be heard in either the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court.  Whatever type of offence you face, your solicitor should help you to decide which plea is right for you.  It will depend upon the strength of the evidence against you and what you tell them about what happened.  You should also be given advice about the sentence that you can expect to receive if you plead, or are found, guilty.

After you have had the opportunity to consider the evidence provided by the prosecution, you will be asked to enter a plea.  If you decide to plead guilty, the court will then go on to decide what sentence is appropriate.  If you decide to plead not guilty, then there will have to be a trial.  It might be possible to fix a trial date at the hearing when you enter your plea but it may be necessary for the case to be adjourned for a Pre-Trial Review (PTR).  A PTR will help to sort out any administrative issues to do with the trial, like the availability of witnesses or preparations for any legal arguments.  It may be possible to have your attendance at a PTR excused if you are working or will find it difficult to attend for any other reason.  It is very important that you keep in touch with your solicitor and give them all of the information that they ask for to prepare for your trial.  You are their best source of information about what actually happened.

After your solicitors have had the opportunity to consider the evidence provided by the prosecution, the court will go through the ‘Plea Before Venue’ procedure.  You will be asked if you want to indicate a plea of guilty or not guilty or make no indication of plea at all.  If you decide to plead guilty, then the court will have to decide if its’ powers of sentence are enough to deal with your case.  If they think that they have insufficient sentencing power then they can send your case to the Crown Court for you to be sentenced by a judge.  If you decide to plead not guilty or not to enter a plea at all, then the court will decide which court is the most appropriate court venue for the case, based on the seriousness of the allegations.  If they think that the case could be heard in the Magistrates’ Court, you will be offered the choice of having your case dealt with in that court or by a judge and jury at the Crown Court.  If they decide that it would be more appropriate for your case to be heard in the Crown Court, then you do not have a choice to make.


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