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What Is The Difference Between A Magistrates’ Court And Crown Court Trial?

If you have been charged with an offence and plead not guilty, the next step is that you will go to trial. The evidence of the prosecution and defence will be presented and a decision will be made whether to convict or acquit you.

Where will my trial take place?

There are two places where your trial can happen, a Magistrates’ Court or a Crown Court. Trials in a Magistrates’ Court are called summary trials, whereas in a Crown Court they are known as trials on indictment. There are some differences in these,

  1. Sentencing powers – a Magistrates’ Court has limited sentencing powers, of six months imprisonment for one either-way offence or 12 months imprisonment for multiple either-way offences.
  2.  In a Magistrates’ Court, a panel of magistrates or a District Judge will hear your case and decide whether to convict you after consideration of matters both in fact and law. In a Crown Court, there is a judge who resolves any issues of law and can direct a jury, but the jury will ultimately decide by applying the law to the facts whether to convict you.
  3. Costs are usually lower in a Magistrates’ Court than a Crown Court.
  4. Cases usually get to trial more quickly in a Magistrates’ Court than a Crown Court, although this gives more time to prepare a case for a Crown Court trial.
  5. Crown Court judges may have a more sophisticated or expert understanding of the law in particular areas.
  6.  Magistrates’ Court trials have higher rates of conviction than Crown Court trials, so you are less likely to be acquitted.
  7. In a Magistrates’ Court there is no requirement to serve a defence statement, which is a document setting out your defences to the offence that you have been charged with. In a Crown Court it is compulsory to serve this document in good time before the trial.

Can I choose whether my trial will be before a jury in a Crown Court?

The offence you are charged with will in part determine which type of court hears your trial.
Summary-only offences are less serious and will usually be tried in a Magistrates’ Court, unless they are linked to a more serious offence. Summary offences include driving offences, minor criminal damage or common assault.

If the offence is ‘either-way’, this means it can be tried either in a Magistrates’ Court or a Crown Court. These include offences such as theft, possession of drugs or assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH). First, the Magistrates’ Court will consider on the facts of your case whether it has sufficient sentencing powers to deal with the offence. If it doesn’t, then it will send your case to the Crown Court for trial. Alternatively, the Magistrates’ Court may accept jurisdiction but you can ‘elect’, or choose to have your trial heard in the Crown Court. Your solicitors, if you are represented, can discuss this option and advise you of the potential reasons you may elect a Crown Court trial, for example if you would like it to be heard by a jury.

If the offence is very serious, known as ‘indictable-only’, then it will be sent to be dealt with in the Crown Court before a jury following the first hearing. This includes offences such as murder, manslaughter or rape.

At Hodge Jones & Allen we have a dedicated crime team whose practitioners have specialist experience advising and assisting clients in court cases. For more information please contact us on 0808 250 7887 or request a call back.