All offences fall into one of three categories. They are:
Summary only – which can only be dealt with at the magistrates’ court
Either way – which can be dealt with either by the magistrates OR the crown court – dependent to how serious the individual circumstances of the allegation is
Indictable only – which can only be dealt with by the crown court
The majority of all offences in English law are ‘either way’ and an allocation determination will be made by the magistrates court and if it is deemed appropriate a case will be allocated to the crown court. Also anyone charged with an either way offence has the option to elect that their case be dealt with by the crown court and ‘elect’ to commit their own case to the crown court.
All indictable only offences will be immediately ‘sent’ to the crown court.
The main difference between the magistrates and crown court is that at the crown court a trial is heard by a judge and jury.
Statistically and historically there is a presumption that a person who is tried by a jury of 12 of their peers is more likey to be acquitted at trial, but at HLA each person is advised very carefully on this dependent on the individual circumstances.
The crown court has a much greater sentencing power and is not bound like the magistrates to a maximum sentence of 6 months per charge. The maximum power for each offence is usually set by statute but the crown court can make life or extended sentences for the most serious of offences.
A person convicted and sentenced by the magistrates court may also ‘appeal’ their case to the crown court for it to be looked at afresh. The grounds for an appeal are that a person is wrongly convicted in which case the crown court will essentially hold another trial in front of a Judge and two magistrates. The second ground is that a sentence passed was excessive in which case a Judge and two magistrates will hear the case again and decide the appropriate sentence. Any appeal must be lodged within 21 days of the case concluding.
Any verdict or order made by the crown court can be appealed to the court of appeal in London however this can only be done if very specific grounds are met. They are that the Judge was incorrect in his or her orders or any directions to a Jury and or any sentence was manifestly excessive. Any appeal must be lodged within 28 days of the case concluding.
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