The Magistrates' Court and the Crown Court are two distinct levels of courts with different jurisdictions.
The key differences between them are as follows:
The Magistrates' Court deals with less serious criminal offences, such as minor theft, public order offences, and some driving offences. It also handles preliminary hearings for more serious cases before they are sent to the Crown Court.
The Crown Court, on the other hand, deals with more serious criminal cases, including higher level theft, assault, rape, murder, and other indictable offences.
The Magistrates' Court is presided over by a panel of lay magistrates (also known as justices of the peace) who are not professional judges but are trained volunteers. There are also legal qualified magistrates, known as District Judges who preside over hearings. They hear cases without a jury.
In contrast, the Crown Court is presided over by a judge and trials are determined by a jury consisting of 12 members who assess the evidence and decide the verdict.
In the Magistrates' Court, the magistrates decide the verdict and imposes sentences within their prescribed limits. They have the authority to impose fines, community orders, and short-term custodial sentences. If they determine that their sentencing powers are not sufficient in ‘either way’ cases, they have the power to commit the case to the crown court to be sentenced there.
In the Crown Court, the judge is responsible for passing sentence in the event that the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty by the jury. They have a wider range of sentencing powers, including longer custodial sentences.
Decisions made in the Magistrates' Court can be appealed to the Crown Court by either the prosecution or the defence if they believe there was an error in law or procedure or if a challenge is to be brought against a conviction or the sentence passed. The appeal must be lodged within 15 working days.
Decisions made in the Crown Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal in the first instance. Appeals against conviction and sentence are considered fist by a single judge in the Court of Appeal who decided if permission to appeal is granted.
It is important to note that this is a general overview, and there may be additional complexities and exceptions within the legal system about which we can advice you in your particular matter.
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.