What happens in a criminal court? Part 1

What happens in a criminal court? Part 1

Going to court can be a worrying and daunting experience, so in this series of articles we outline what you can expect from each type of hearing. If you are particularly worried, it may help to go along to court to familiarise yourself with what happens, before the date of your hearing. You can also ask us to explain anything you are not sure of.

Part 1 – A guilty plea in the Magistrates’ Court 

In advance of your first hearing, your solicitor will endeavour to get the initial case details from the prosecution. This is not always possible so on some occasions it will not be available until the day of the hearing. Once it has been obtained, your solicitor will review and discuss the evidence with you and advise you on the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case, in order to advise you on your plea. If you have been advised to do so and have decided to plead guilty, the charges will be put to you and you will tell the court that you plead guilty.

The prosecutor will then open the case to the Magistrates or District Judge and read a summary of the case. If you have any previous convictions or cautions the court will be told about them. The prosecutor may also apply for any ‘ancillary orders’ relevant to the type of offending, such as a restraining order, an drinking banning order, or a sexual harm prevention order. The prosecutor will also apply to the court for its costs.  At the time of writing, the standard request after a guilty plea is £85.  

Next, your defence advocate will put forwards your mitigation. This will cover any facts which the court should know about you which will help it to decide what is the most relevant sentence in the circumstances, and what credit should be given to you, in order to reduce any sentence you may receive. You can get some idea about the sentencing guidelines here

If a probation report is required, you will be given time to meet with a Probation Officer in the court building.  The Probation Officer will speak to you about your offending and your general background, before they deliver their report to the court. Your advocate will be able to address the court about any matters arising from the report, which they consider necessary. They will also make representations on your behalf about any ancillary orders the prosecution has asked for.

The Magistrates or the District Judge, having considered everything they have heard will then tell you what sentence they have decided on and explain it to you, together with any ancillary orders they have decided to impose.

Costs and a Victim Surcharge will be imposed and you will be asked how you intend to make the payment – generally a Collection Order is made, allowing 14 days for payment to be made. You should be realistic about how much you can afford to pay, and not say the first thing that comes into your head!  The court will often ask you whether you have brought any money with you to court.  

If you are legally represented, your advocate will then run through with you what happened to make sure you fully understood everything. Within a few days a letter will be sent to you confirming your sentence. If for some reason you intend to appeal against your sentence you should inform your solicitor immediately, as you only have 21 days from the date of your conviction before being out of time to do so.

If you decide to represent yourself in court, you may want to take a look at Rod Hayler’s series of self-help videos, available here

Rod Hayler

Rod Hayler

Rod has specialised in criminal defence work since 1998. He is a trial advocate of 17 years’ experience and, as a Higher Courts Advocate, he represents clients in Crown Courts and in the Court of Appeal.

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