Our Courts

Do you want to know more about our North East courts? Below you can read more about the court system and download information packs on each of our courts.

Magistrates vs Crown Courts

Magistrates Court

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:

  • Burglary
  • Drugs offences

These are called ‘either way’ offences and can be heard either in a magistrates’ court or a Crown Court.

Crown Court

Magistrates’ courts always pass the most serious crimes to the Crown Court, for example:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Robbery

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

Who Goes To Court

If you require advice or support in relation to these rights, then the Victim Care and Advice Service can help you.


The Defendant

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).


Public (anyone)

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’.

Support At Court

Pre-Court or Pre-Trial Visit

It is helpful to ask the police or the Witness Care Unit for a visit to see the courtroom. The Witness Service can help you on your pre-court visit.

When the judge has said you can use the live link, it also helps to practise using the live link on your visit. This lets you think about the best way for you to answer the court questions.

It is the judge who says if you can use the live link, the remote live link or be in the courtroom to answer the court’s questions.

Help For witnesses

Special Measures

‘Special Measures’ are things the court can do to help some witnesses.

A judge may let:

  • Witnesses under 18 years old
  • Those with communication needs
  • Witnesses with mental health needs
  • Those with a disability

use a range of ‘special measures’.

court hammer

Find Out More About Our Courts

Click on the links below to download an information pack

Durham Crown Court Information Pack

Newcastle Crown Court Information Pack

Newton Aycliffe Magistrates Court Information Pack

Peterlee Magistrates Court Information Pack

Teesside Crown Court Information Pack

Frequently asked questions

Support In Court

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.

Support In Court

Can I take someone with me?

Yes, you can take someone with you on the day for support.

Support In Court

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

Support In Court

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.

Support In Court

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.

Any Questions

If you have any questions about our services please do not hesitate to contact us