Do you have a trial in the Magistrates’ Court? Is this your first time standing trial? Not sure what to expect?
For many people the courtroom is a scary and unfamiliar place, nerves can run high especially when you do not know what to expect or how to prepare yourself.
All criminal cases in England and Wales start in the Magistrates’ Court, but for trial, some may stay in the Magistrates’ Court whilst others are sent to the Crown Court.
Today, we will focus on what to expect if your trial is listed in the Magistrates’ Court.
Firstly and what may come as a surprise to some, there is no jury in the Magistrates’ Court. Your trial will be heard by a bench of two to three Magistrates or a District Judge. A District Judge is a professional lawyer whereas Magistrates are not professional lawyers and are assisted by a “Justices’ Legal Advisor” on the relevant law and procedure in Court.
At the start of your trial, your Defence advocate and the Prosecutor will introduce themselves to the Court, you will then identify yourself and confirm your plea of “Not Guilty”, you will then be asked to take a seat, usually in the Dock, and the Trial will begin.
Given the Prosecution bring the case, and must prove its case against you, the Prosecutor will open the case by addressing the Court first. The prosecutor will provide a summary of the alleged offence, confirm what evidence they intend to present or call such as, live witnesses and any digital, photographic or medical evidence and inform the Court of any areas of dispute or relevant matters of law.
Your Defence advocate will then be invited to confirm what the issues are in the case and any areas of dispute.
The Prosecutor will call their first witness to the stand to give evidence, this is usually the alleged victim in your matter. The witness will first take the oath or affirm and then proceed to give their account. The Prosecutor will ask the witness questions in relation to the alleged incident to present evidence in order to prove the offence against you.
Your Defence advocate will then cross-examine this witness by asking several questions to challenge the credibility of the witnesses’ evidence and present evidence in support of your defence. The Prosecutor may then re-examine the witness on any matters that arose during cross-examination.
This batting order will continue for all live witnesses. Once evidence has been heard from all live witnesses, the prosecutor will read out any agreed witness statements, an agreed summary of your interview, show any exhibits such as photographs, and play any digital evidence such as CCTV and body worn footage.
When all Prosecution evidence has been presented, the Prosecutor will proceed to close the case usually by stating words to the effect of “that is the case for the Crown”.
The defence case will then begin; the first person to give evidence, would be you, should you wish to do so, you are entitled to remain silent at trial and leave it to the Prosecution to prove its case. However, not giving evidence can lead to an adverse inference being drawn against you. Nonetheless, by the point of trial, you will have already sought the advice of your Solicitor and made a decision as to whether or not you would give evidence at trial.
Should you give evidence, you too, will take the oath or affirm prior to giving your evidence. Your Defence advocate will ask you questions giving you the opportunity to give your version of events and what you dispute in the Prosecution’s case. You will then be cross-examined by the Prosecutor who would challenge your account. Your Defence advocate may then re-examine you on any matters that arose during cross-examination.
Any Defence witnesses you wish to call, will give evidence in the same way. When all Defence evidence has been presented, your Defence advocate will close the case by stating words to the effect of “that is the case for the Defence”.
The Prosecutor may deliver a closing speech, summing up the evidence heard during trial and seek to persuade the Court that the verdict should be one of “Guilty”. Your Defence advocate will also give a closing speech seeking to persuade the Court that the Prosecution has not proven the case against you and the verdict should be one of “Not Guilty”.
If your Trial is before a District Judge, the Judge will retire to consider their verdict. If your Trial is before Magistrates, the Justices’ Legal Advisor will give legal advice to the Magistrates’ on the relevant law and what must be proved against you for you to be found “Guilty” and if not, then you must be found “Not Guilty”.
If you are found “Not Guilty” you will be free to leave the court and any bail conditions you were subject to would be removed. You may also be reimbursed for any travel costs to Court.
If you are found “Guilty” you will fall to be Sentenced for the offence. Sentence can take place immediately or at a later stage if further information is required such as Pre-Sentence Reports prepared by Probation. You will have already been advised on the sentencing options prior to your trial by your Solicitors.
Our experienced Crime team are one of the UK’s leading Criminal Defence solicitors. They regularly represent a wide range of clients at police stations and in court. If you require legal representation or legal advice from one of our experts, please call 0808 252 5231 or request a call back.