By the time you reach your trial at the Magistrates’ Court, you will have attended at least one hearing there previously – the first appearance at which you will have entered your plea and a trial date fixed.
If you have pleaded not guilty to an offence, and your trial has been listed in the Magistrates’ Court, this will be because:
You have been charged and pleaded not guilty to a “summary only” offence. These offences can only be tried in the lower Court; or
The Magistrates considered their sentencing powers sufficient to deal with your case so kept it at the Magistrates’ Court; or
You had a choice between the Magistrates’ and Crown Court, and elected to stay at the Magistrates’ Court.
In any of the above scenarios, the below is applicable and will demystify the process that will follow your trial date having been set.
What happens when you arrive at Court for a trial in the Magistrates' Court?
Arriving at Court
You will attend Court on the day of your trial. You will either have already made contact with a legal representative to assist you at Court, or you may ask for the duty solicitor to assist you when you arrive.
It is always advisable to speak to a legal representative before the day to best prepare you for trial. In either case, once you have arrived and met with your legal representative, you will usually have time to run through the evidence and procedure.
Going into the Courtroom
When your case is called on, you may be asked to sit in the dock and will be asked to provide your name, address and date of birth and confirm that you pleaded ‘not guilty’.
The Trial Process
The prosecution will open their case by summarising the allegation against you and the evidence they will be presenting in court.
They then go on to present their evidence, which can be in the form of calling witnesses to give live evidence in court or by video link, playing video or audio evidence, producing photographic evidence, and so on.
If there are prosecution witnesses, they will give their evidence first. You or your legal representative will then test the reliability of their evidence by cross-examining them.
Then it is the turn of the defence. As the defendant, you have the right to give evidence, should you wish. There are some circumstances where you may not wish to give evidence or it may be advisable not to give evidence. Each case is different and so your legal representative will advise you on your options. If you decide to give evidence, you will be asked questions by your legal representations first followed by questions from the prosecution. The Judge or Magistrates’ can also ask you questions.
If you are calling witnesses in support of your case, they will give evidence either in person or by video link or their statements may be read.
The case will then be closed by the prosecution followed by closing remarks from the defence.
Guilty or Not Guilty?
The Judge(s) will retire to consider their verdict (whether you are guilty or not guilty) based on the evidence they have heard.
In order to find you guilty, they will need to be ‘sure’ you are guilty, or in other words ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. See our article here, which deals with the burden and standard of proof.
How long will my Magistrates' Court trial take?
The trial can last anywhere from an hour to a few days. But most are somewhere between half a day to a full day.
The Court day starts at 10am and usually finished by 4.30pm, with an hour for lunch between 1pm and 2pm.
Who will decide if I am guilty or not guilty?
The Magistrates or a District Judge will decide whether you are guilty or not guilty after listening to both sides of the evidence presented during trial. There is no jury at the Magistrates’ Court.
What will happen after my trial?
What happens following your trial depends whether you are found guilty or not guilty.
If you are found guilty: you will need to be sentenced. The timing of this depends on various factors as follows:
You will be sentenced on the day. If this is the case, the prosecution and defence (your legal representative) may say a few words to assist the Judge(s) when they are considering what sentence to pass; or
Your sentence will be adjourned to a later date. This will happen if, for example, the Judge(s) believe you would benefit from a ‘pre-sentence report’. This is a report prepared by Probation that makes recommendations on the appropriate sentence for you. The report is written after you attend an appointment with Probation who will ask you questions about the offence and your personal circumstances and assess your level of risk of reoffending and to the community. Your sentence may also be adjourned due to a simple lack of time. There are important considerations to be made that the Judge(s) will not want to rush.
If you are found not guilty: that is the end of your matter and the case against you is now at an end.
Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.