Magistrates vs Crown Courts
All criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court.
3 magistrates or a judge are in charge of a Magistrates’ Court. A magistrates’ court normally handles cases known as ‘summary offences’, for example:
- Most motoring offences
- Minor criminal damage
- Common assault (not causing significant injury)
It can also deal with some of the more serious offences, such as:
- Drugs offences
These are called ‘either way’ offences and can be heard either in a magistrates’ court or a Crown Court.
Magistrates’ courts always pass the most serious crimes to the Crown Court, for example:
These are known as ‘indictable offences’.
A judge is in charge of a Crown Court.
A Crown Court can give a range of sentences including:
- Community sentences
- Prison sentences - including life sentences
A defendant is someone who may have done something wrong and against the law.
A trial happens when the defendant says they did not do the crime. The defendant says they are ‘not guilty’.
A witness saw, heard or knows something about what happened. The witness’ job is to tell the truth about what happened.
You are a witness. At a court trial you will be asked questions about what you saw, heard or know.
A Witness Supporter
All courts have witness supporters (the ‘Witness Service’).
A witness supporter may also be a family member, a trusted friend, teacher, an Independent Sexual Violence Adviser (ISVA) or an Independent Domestic Violence Adviser (IDVA).
Anybody can go into a courtroom to watch what happens.
The family or friends of the defendant or witnesses, may sit here for some trials.
They sit in the ‘public gallery’.
Can I attend the initial hearing even though I’m not required?
You can attend, although initial hearings are very short hearings and are when the Magistrates decide if the case will remain at the Magistrates Court or if it will be sent to the Crown Court.
Can I take someone with me?
Yes, you can take someone with you on the day for support.
Can I visit the court beforehand?
A visit to the court beforehand is recommended. The Witness Service will show you around the court and will do this before the trial date. We can make a referral for you to the Witness Service if this is something you require
Do I have to go?
Getting a witness warning means you will have to go to court on the day of the trial and give evidence if you're asked to. We are here to offer advice; support and help with any concerns you may have about giving evidence.
How long will a case take to go to court?
This is different for each and every investigation and can sometimes take in excess of 12 months, the Victim Care and Advice Service can provide you with support throughout the entire Criminal Justice process, from your report of the crime to the police, to court and beyond if that is required.