Magistrates Court Trial Procedure


In almost all criminal cases in this country, the prosecution must prove the case against you. The prosecution must prove its case to a very high standard. Before you can be found guilty of a criminal offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you are guilty. Only if the court is sure of your guilt can they find you guilty. If there is any reasonable doubt, then you must be found not guilty.

The Court

Unlike the Crown Court, a Judge and Jury will not hear your case. In the Magistrates’ Court, cases are to be heard either by a single Stipendiary Magistrate or by a Lay Bench. Stipendiary Magistrates are qualified lawyers, whereas the Lay Bench is composed of three members of the community who have no particular legal training. The Lay Bench is supported by a Clerk of the Court, who provides them with legal advice when they are coming to a decision.

Procedure

You will first be asked to surrender to the custody of the court. This means that you go into the dock and then you are asked to give your name, date of birth and your home address. Once you have been identified, you remain in the dock until it is your time to give evidence.

The Prosecution Case

The trial starts when the prosecutor outlines the case against you to the court. Each of the prosecution witnesses will then be called. Witnesses first swear an oath to tell the truth, and then give their evidence. Prosecution witnesses are first questioned by the prosecutor (examination in chief) and are then questioned by your advocate (cross-examination) and any other defence advocates if you are jointly accused with another.

Once your advocate (and the other defence advocates) has finished questioning the witness, the Prosecutor can ask some final questions to clarify any of the answers already given (re-examination). The Magistrate(s) can also ask questions at any stage. Once the witness has given their evidence they are generally released and can either go home or watch the trial from the public gallery.

If you have already agreed a witness’s evidence as true, such as a doctor’s statement or a photograph, their statement can be read to the court. There is no point, after all, getting a witness to give evidence live in the witness box if we do not have any questions to ask them.

Once all the prosecution witnesses have given evidence, the case will have reached half time. If the prosecution has not proved its case at this stage, it will never be able to do so because they would have called all their witnesses.

No Case To Answer

Your advocate will have to decide whether to argue that there is ‘no case to answer’. This means that the prosecution has failed to make a good case against you. It will be for the court to decide if your advocate has a good argument. If the no case to answer submission is accepted, you will be found not guilty and the case will be over.

If your advocate decides that we do not have an argument for a ‘no case to answer’ submission, or the argument fails, the case will continue.

Defence Case

You do not have to prove anything. You have an absolute right to remain silent - you cannot be forced to give evidence during your trial.

Since 1997, however, the law has changed. The law now states that if you do not give evidence at your own trial the jury may use your silence against when they decide you guilt or innocence.

If you are going to give evidence in your own case this will be the time that you are called to give evidence in the witness box. You should stand up in the witness box. If you find standing difficult you should ask the judge or the magistrate if you can sit down.

Like all the other witness who have given evidence from the witness box, you will then be asked to swear an oath or affirm. This means that you have to swear to tell the truth on the Bible or the holy book of your religion. If you prefer, you can ‘affirm’ - that is, promising to tell the truth. You can inform our representative if you wish to affirm or take the oath. If you wish to take the oath, please inform our representative or the court usher of the holy book on which you wish to swear.

You will first be questioned by our advocate (examination in chief), and will then be questioned by the other Defence Counsel if you are jointly accused (cross-examination). Once the Prosecutor has finished questioning you, our advocate may ask some final questions to clarify any of the answers already given (re-examination). The Magistrates can also ask questions at any stage.

Once you have finished giving evidence you will return to the dock. If there are any other Defence witnesses, they will now be called in turn and go through the same procedure. When they are finished giving evidence, they will be released and can either remain in court or go home.

Will I get bail during the trial?

If the trial goes over one day or carries on after the lunch break the court will decide if your bail should continue or if you should be remanded in custody (sent to jail). Generally, if you came to court on bail you can expect to be granted bail during the trial. If you came to court from prison you can expect to be taken to the cells during lunch and spend the nights in prison.

Speeches

Once all the Defence evidence has been heard our advocate will close the Defence case and make a closing speech putting forward your case. The Prosecution will not be allowed to address the bench except on matters of law.

Verdict

The Magistrate(s) will normally retire to consider their verdict. They will decide your case by a majority vote. If you are found not guilty you will be discharged and your advocate will ask for your reasonable costs to be repaid to you.

If you are found guilty then you will either be sentenced immediately or the court will order a pre-sentence report. The Court will also decide whether to grant you bail or send you immediately to jail for the preparation of these reports. If you are granted bail it generally takes 4 weeks to prepare these reports. You will be expected to visit the probation officer that will write your report. If you are refused bail it generally takes 3 weeks to prepare these reports and the probation officer will come and visit you in jail.

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