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magistrates court and what happens

What To Do When You Get To Court

Arrival At Court

On arrival at Court, please make sure that you report to both the Court reception and the Court Usher for the Court in which you case is listed. There will normally be an information board at the Court, which shows the list of people who are due in Court and the relevant Courtroom number. If there is no reception area at the Courthouse then please report to the appropriate Court Usher. If you stand in the vicinity of the relevant Court, then you will normally see the Court Usher around and about with a Court list in their hands. The Court usher will advise you if there is anybody else that you need to report to.

Please arrive at Court promptly. Most Courts have staggered hearing times for cases but, if you are there promptly, there is a good chance that you will be dealt with promptly. Having said that, if it is a very busy Court, then you could be waiting some time.

Please make appropriate arrangements into things such as your employment and/or childcare because you can never guarantee how quickly your case will be dealt with. It is unfortunate but the Court will give very little consideration to your own domestic arrangements in terms of your need to get away sooner rather than later. The Court tends to form the view that, if you are due at Court, then the Courts timetable takes priority over your own.

What Happens When My Case is Called On?

When you case is called you must go into the Courtroom and stand, where directed by the Court Usher. You will then be asked by the Court Clerk to confirm you personal details, such as your name, address and date of birth.

The Court Clerk will then read out the offences that you are alleged to have committed. Hopefully, by this time, you will have decided whether or not you wish to plead guilty or not guilty. Pleading guilty means that you admit the offences in question and pleading not guilty means that you deny that you have committed the offences in question.

What Happens if I Plead Guilty?

If you plead guilty to some or all of the offences then the Crown Prosecutor will stand up and outline the details of those offences to the Magistrates or the District Judge. They will normally give a brief outline of the offences in question and at the end of outlining the offences, they will draw the Courts attention to any previous convictions that you may have for similar types of offences. The Crown Prosecutor will then also make an application for costs in relation to the prosecution of the case. The level of the costs application depends on at what stage you have pleaded guilty or been found guilty in the proceedings.

The decision as to whether or not to agree to the costs applied for by the Crown Prosecution is up to the Magistrates or the District Judge. They will normally take into account your financial circumstances before making this decision.

After the Crown Prosecutor has outlined the circumstances of the offences, then you will have an opportunity to tell the Magistrates about what happened. This is called ‘giving mitigation’. In your mitigation you should deal with issues such as why the offence occurred and the circumstances in which the offence occurred. For example, if the offence is one of speeding, then you might want to explain to the Magistrates that the weather was good and that the roads were clear and that it was a momentary lapse in your concentration. Obviously it is for you to think about the reasons why you committed the offence in question but this is your opportunity to explain to the Magistrates those things which you think would make them feel a degree of sympathy towards you.

You should also take this opportunity to explain any relevant personal circumstances. For example, if you are at risk of losing your driving licence, then you may well want to explain to the Magistrates about the fact that other people are reliant on you to drive them around, if this is appropriate. You may also want to bring supporting letters with you in order to back up your mitigation. You should think about bringing letters from people whom the Magistrates would respect. This is called a character reference. The character reference should deal with how long the person in question has known you and the capacity in which they know you. You might wish to bring a letter from you employer with you if, for example, a period of disqualification would result in you losing your employment.

After hearing from the Crown Prosecution Service about the facts of the offence and after hearing from you in relation to your mitigation. The Magistrates will then decide on what sentence to impose. They will often consult with their Court Clerk as to the appropriate sentencing guidelines. The Magistrates will also take into account your financial circumstances and you will normally be provided with a form, by the Court, in order that you outline your circumstances in that respect.

The Magistrates will then announce their sentence. If they impose a financial penalty then they will often allow you time to pay the fine. This can either be over a period of weeks or months. Obviously the Magistrates will want you to pay the fine as soon as possible but they are willing to consider allowing you time to pay if your financial circumstances are such that you could not pay the fine in one go. The Magistrates do not raise this issue and if you want them to consider allowing you time to pay, then you should ask them for time to pay the fine when they ask you how quickly you can pay.

Some Courts will have a fines department on the site. If they do and you are able to pay your fine in one go, then you should go to the fines office and make payment as appropriate.

If a financial penalty has been imposed then the Court Usher will often have an information sheet, which explains to you, the various ways in which you can pay the fine. You should ask the Court Usher for this information if it is not given to you automatically.

If penalty points are imposed on your licence then the DVLA will endorse your driving licence to that effect after receiving notification from the Court. You need to see the separate information sheet in relation to disqualifications and penalty points if you require further information in that respect.

If you are disqualified from driving you will not be able to drive home from Court. The disqualification takes immediate effect. If you get caught by the police for driving whilst disqualified (and the police are often vigilant towards people who are leaving Court after being disqualified) you will be facing an imprisonable offence. The Magistrates take a Breach of Order of Disqualification very seriously. Please make sure that if you are at risk of disqualification you make plans in relation to alternative methods of getting home just in case.

If you are fined in relation to the offence in question then the fine will be reduced on the basis that you have pleaded guilty at an early stage in the proceedings. This can be up to a 1/3rd discount off of what you would have been fined had you not pleaded guilty and had a trial.

What Happens if I Plead Not Guilty?

If you plead not guilty to one or more of the offences then a trial will be required. Sometimes the Prosecution will be willing to accept guilty pleas to some offences and then withdraw any outstanding offences to which you have indicated a not guilty plea. Again, a Defence Lawyer would be able to put forward this proposal on your behalf. You can suggest this to the Crown Prosecution Service, on your own behalf, when you attend at Court. Having said that, you will be ‘laying your cards on the table’ in terms of accepting that you are willing to plead guilty to certain matters.

If you indicate a not guilty plea and the prosecution are unwilling to withdraw the offence in question, then a trial will be required. In relation to road traffic cases, the Magistrates will normally list any trial proceedings without adjourning the case for what is called a ‘pre-trial review’. However, if it is a complicated case, then the magistrates will normally adjourn the case for a period in the region of four to five weeks in order to conduct what is called a ‘pre-trial review’. This is a hearing where witness availability will be considered and decision will be made as to which witnesses will have to attend Court and which of witness statements can be read out.

If any of the witnesses say things that you don’t agree with then you should request that they attend at Court for the trial. This will enable you, or your Lawyer, to cross-examine them on their evidence.

It would be unusual for the Court to be in a position to conduct the trial proceedings on the first date of hearing. This is because witnesses such as victims or alleged victims or police officers will not be present at Court for the first hearing.

If you case is going to adjourned for trial then you will need to advise the Court of any witnesses that you intend to call in order to give evidence on your behalf. If you wish to use our services in relation to employing a Solicitor or Barrister to act on your behalf, then they will be able to advise you more fully in relation to which any witnesses that should be called. They will also be able to arrange for an expert witness to attend and give evidence on your behalf, if appropriate. An expert witness would be somebody who has a particular expertise for example in relation to the operation of speed detection lasers etc.

The Trial

When you attend Court for trial, you should take any witnesses that you wish to call on your behalf, to Court. Please attend at Court promptly because a specific time slot will have been allocated in relation to dealing with your case.

The trial begins when the Crown Prosecution Service gives a brief outline of the alleged offence/s to the Magistrates. The Crown Prosecutor will then call each of the witnesses that they intend to rely upon in terms of proving the case against you. For example, the Crown Prosecution Service may wish to call a police officer who has taken a breathalyser sample from you. That officer will stand up and give evidence in relation to his or her involvement in the case. After the Crown Prosecutor has asked the witness questions about what happened and their knowledge of events, you will then have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness. This means that you are able to ask them questions about what they claim to have seen or done and you should make it clear to them if you believe that they are mistaken or are not correct in their account of events.

There are quite complicated rules in relation to the laws of evidence and the way in which witnesses can be cross-examined. Again, we are able to assist you further in this respect if you wish us to do so. Please speak to one of our advisors if you require further information in this respect.

After the Crown Prosecutor has called all of their witnesses and you have had the opportunity to question them about their account of events, it will then be your opportunity to give evidence on your own behalf.

When you give evidence on your own behalf, you should outline to the Magistrates your account of events. After you have done this the Crown Prosecutor will be able to ask you questions in order to test what you have to say in relation to the offence in question. The Crown Prosecutor will try to get you to accept responsibility for what they say you have done wrong. After the Crown Prosecutor has finished asking you questions, you are then given another opportunity to say anything further arising from the questions that the Crown Prosecutor has asked you in relation to your own defence.

You are then entitled to call any witnesses that you have bought to Court with you in order to give evidence on your behalf. You will be able to ask these witnesses questions in order to get across their account of events to the Court. After you have asked questions of this witness the Crown Prosecutor will then be able to ask them questions in order to test their account of events. Again the Crown Prosecutor will be trying to show that you were in fact, responsible for the offence in question,

After you have finished giving your own evidence, along with any witnesses that you have called, you will then be given the opportunity, by the Magistrates, to make what is called a closing speech. This is your opportunity to sum up what has been said on your own behalf and to convince the Magistrates to accept your account of events. This would also be an opportunity to draw to the Magistrates attention, any law that supports you contention that you are not guilty of the offence in question. Again, this can be done on your behalf by a Defence Lawyer if you wish to instruct us in that respect.

The Magistrates will then deliberate on what they have heard. They will then decide whether or not you are guilty of the offence in question. When the Magistrates decide on whether or not you are guilty, they have to work out whether or not they have been convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, by the Crown Prosecution Service that you committed the offence in question. If you have managed to cast a doubt on the Prosecutions evidence and in relation to whether or not you are guilty of the offence, then the Magistrates should find you not guilty. Being found not guilty means that you have been acquitted. If you are found not guilty, then this will be the end of the matter and there will be no order for costs against you. If you have used our services in relation to having a Defence Lawyer present your case on your behalf, then the Defence Lawyer will be able to make an application for costs in relation to the defence of your case and the Magistrates are empowered to make an order in that respect. They may make an order that you be reimbursed for some or all of your defence costs. If we were acting on your behalf then we would try to persuade the Magistrates that it is entirely appropriate to reimburse you in relation to the total cost that you have incurred.

If you are found guilty of the offence then you are dealt with in the way outlined above in relation to the paragraph on ‘what if I plead guilty to the offence’. The Magistrates will make a decision as to how you should be sentenced. They will, if you have had a trial and been convicted, then the Magistrates will not give you any credit for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity. This means that if you have a trial and you are found guilty you are likely to be fined more than if you had pleaded guilty in the first instance.

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