What happens in a criminal court? Part 2

What happens in a criminal court? Part 2

I am pleading not guilty – what will happen at court?

In the last article, we told you what you could expect to happen if you were pleading guilty at court. Here, we explain what will happen if you are going to plead not guilty. We hope that this will help you to understand the process a little better, but of course we are always happy to answer any questions you may have.

We may have represented you at the police station, and so we would already be aware that you have been charged and bailed to appear at court. This means that we will know your eligibility for legal aid to pay for your representation and will have made an application to the Legal Aid Agency for a Representation Order. If you are a new client wishing to instruct us to represent you, you should contact us straightaway as legal aid can take some time to put in place.

At court, you will enter a not guilty plea in answer to the charges put to you.

Some cases are summary only, and must be heard in the Magistrates’ Court. In these cases, the court will fix a date for your trial and make certain case management decisions.

Either Way offences 

If the case is an ‘either way’ offence, it can be dealt with in the Magistrates’ or Crown Court, subject to the following criteria:

Before deciding whether the trial will take place in the Magistrates’ or Crown Court, the prosecutor and the defence will address the Bench on the seriousness of the case. If appropriate, the case will be ‘sent’ to the Crown Court and a date will be fixed, generally within 28 days for a Pre-Trial Preparation Hearing to take place.

If the Bench decide that the case is suitable to be heard in the Magistrates’ Court, you will be asked whether you wish to ‘elect’ to have your trial take place in the Crown Court. If so, your case will be sent to the Crown Court, and a date set for a Pre-Trial Preparation Hearing. You will need to take advice from your solicitor where the best ‘venue’ for your trial is, bearing in mind that the Crown Court’s powers of punishment are greater.  However, it is also worth bearing in mind that the Magistrates will have the power to send you to the Crown Court for sentence if you are convicted in the lower court after trial.  

Whether your case has been sent, or you have elected to have your trial in the Crown Court, your solicitor will now start to prepare your case for trial.

Summary trial 

So, what will happen if your trial is to take place in Magistrates’ Court? The prosecutor will now summarise the case to the court, and say which witnesses will be required. Your advocate will summarise any issues there might be and a time estimate for how long the trial might take. Following this, a date will be set for your trial and you will be remanded in custody or on bail (with or without conditions) to attend court for the trial. If you have been on bail so far, it is highly unlikely that you will be remanded in custody at this first appearance, but it is very important that you do not breach any conditions that have been set. You will also be warned that if you fail to attend court for your trial, it may take place in your absence.

Trial preparation 

In exactly the same way as if your trial were to take place in the Crown Court, your solicitor will now start to prepare your case. This will involve meeting with them to give your formal ‘instructions’ on your case and to provide the details of any witnesses you may have.  Any such witnesses will need to be interviewed so that statements can be prepared. This process works best if you are fully committed to working with your advocate to achieve the best possible outcome for your case.

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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