The court case
Most criminal cases are heard in a magistrates' court. The magistrates are usually people who live in the local community, sometimes called justices of the peace. There are usually three magistrates who are supported by a legally trained advisor. Sometimes cases are tried by one magistrate, called a district judge, who is a lawyer.
Magistrates' courts are not as formal as the Crown Court, the magistrates do not wear wigs and only the ushers (court officials who keep everything running smoothly) wear black gowns.
Some cases are heard in the Crown Court. There are three situations where a case may be 'tried' at the Crown Court:
- Serious crimes
- Cases where the defendant (the person accused of the crime) has asked to have his case tried by a jury
- Magistrates may send a case to the Crown Court if they feel they do not have the power to set a sentence as severe as the crime deserves
Cases at the Crown Court are tried by a jury. These are 12 people from the general public who listen to the evidence presented during the trial and decide if the defendant is guilty of the crime. The judge decides on matters of law during the trial, such as whether certain evidence is allowed to be presented. The judge also makes sure the trial proceeds in a fair way. At the end of the trial if the defendant is found guilty the judge decides the sentence for the crime (for example how long the defendant must spend in prison).
Who prosecutes the case?
In both Crown Court and magistrates' court, there will be advocates who prosecute the case on behalf of the Crown.
The Crown Prosecution Service has a statutory obligation to ensure that the prosecution advocate is introduced to you at court and answers your questions.
The defendant will have their own legal representative in court to defend them against the charges.