The Magistrates Court deals with criminal law and a limited number of civil cases. Most civil cases are dealt with in the County Court.
In the Magistrates Court, cases are dealt with either by Justices of the Peace or by District Judges. Justices of the Peace, commonly known as Magistrates, are unpaid and are not usually legally qualified. They are assisted by legally qualified clerks. They usually hear cases as a panel of three Magistrates and are referred to as “the bench”.
All criminal cases begin in the Magistrates Court and are divided into three categories:
- Summary Offences – these are considered to be less serious offences and include most driving offences, drunkenness and minor assaults. Defendants are not entitled to trial by jury.
- Either Way Offences – these include theft, drug offences and some violent offences. These can be tried in either Magistrates Court or Crown Court depending on whether or not the defendant chooses trial by jury. The Crown Court can impose stronger sentences than the Magistrates Court.
- Indictable Offences – these are the most serious crimes and include murder, rape and manslaughter. The first hearing will be in the Magistrates Court where the bench will decide whether or not the defendant can have bail but all other hearings will be in the Crown Court.
If you receive a letter telling you to attend the Magistrates Court, known as a summons, please contact the Student Advice Centre. It is very important that you don’t ignore a summons as this could lead to further action being taken against you. For some offences, such as some driving offences, it is possible to plead guilty by post and the summons will tell you this. Failure to attend court when required to could eventually lead to a warrant being issued for your arrest.
Advisers at the Student Advice Centre can give you advice and information about the Magistrates Court but are not able to represent you at a hearing. If you want to be represented at Magistrates Court then you will need to find a legal representative.Last Updated: 13/12/2011 | Disclaimer