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who does what jobs in a magistrates court

Who Are The People In Court?

 The General Public

The public are free to sit in most Courts and observe the proceedings. There is a principal that justice should be seen to be done and this means that members of the public can sit and watch what happens, including trials and sentencing hearings. There are rare occasions when the Courts are not open to the public and this includes Youth Courts or Courts, which are held ‘in camera’. ‘ In camera’ hearings normally take place where there is a special reason why a victim, or a witness, doesn’t want their identity to be revealed to the general public however, this is extremely rare.

Road Traffic Courts are almost always open to the public. This means that any members of the public or interested parties can come into Court and sit at the back and watch. There are rare circumstances where you can ask for your case to be held ‘in camera’ as mentioned above. If you need specialist advice in this respect then please call our advisors who will be able to assist further.

The Court Clerk

The Court Clerk is the legal advisor to the Magistrates. The Court Clerk must be a qualified Solicitor or Barrister. The role of the Court Clerk is to assist unrepresented people in presenting their case to the Magistrates and to also assist the Magistrates in relation to proceedings and legal issues.

If you are going to present your case without representation then the Court Clerk is under a duty to assist you. Having said that, the Court Clerk’s primary duty is to the Magistrates and they will not be able to actually represent you in the same way that a Solicitor or Barrister, acting on your behalf, would be able to. They will give you general assistance in relation to any legal issues that arise. They will also give you assistance in relation to the cross-examination of witnesses. Having said that, they will not do the cross-examination for you.

The Court Clerk's main role is to assist the Magistrates in making sure that they apply the appropriate law when dealing with cases. They will also give the Magistrates guidance in relation to their sentencing powers.

The Defence Solicitor or Barrister

If you decide to instruct a Defence Lawyer to act on your behalf then this person will either be a qualified Solicitor or Barrister. We are able to arrange this service for you and we have contacts across the country in relation to making sure that we employ somebody, on your behalf, who is of a suitable level of experience.

The role of a Defence Lawyer is to present a Defendant’s case whether in a trial or in relation to a sentencing hearing, to the Court, in the best possible light. A Defence Lawyer will also be able to advise you on whether or not you should plead guilty to the offence in question.

If you decide that you wish to employ a Defence Lawyer to speak on your behalf, then he or she will be able to present your case to the Court and will ensure that all relevant issues in your favour are raised.

The Defence Lawyer will also be aware of any sentencing guidelines and will be able to tell you in advance, of the likely sentence that will be imposed. Of course, this Defence Lawyer cannot guarantee that this will be the outcome of the case because it is always up to the Magistrates or the District Judge to decide on the appropriate sentence. However, a Defence Lawyer will have gathered considerable experience in relation to trials and sentencing hearings and will be able to give you guidance on the likely outcome before the hearing commences.

If you decide to instruct a Defence Lawyer to act on your behalf in relation to a trial then a Defence Lawyer will be able to cross-examine all the Crown Prosecution witnesses on your behalf. The Defence Lawyer will try to test their evidence in order to see whether or not what they say is reliable.

Please contact our advisors if you wish us to instruct a Defence Lawyer to act on your behalf in relation to the proceedings.

A Representative from the Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecutor will normally be a legally qualified Solicitor or Barrister. Having said that, the Courts are now allowing non-lawyers to prosecute straight-forward cases and it is becoming increasingly more common.

The role of the Crown Prosecutor is to present the prosecution case to the Court. If you are pleading guilty then this will mean that the Prosecutor will read out the basic details of the prosecution case. This may well include witness statements from the victims and/or police officers. The Crown Prosecutor will normally read out a basic summary of the case to the Magistrates and will then ask the Magistrates to also consider imposing a Costs Order in favour of the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the costs of presenting the case. The amount of any application for a Costs Order would depend on how quickly the case has come to a conclusion. If you have a trial in the case and you are found guilty, the application for costs will be higher than if you plead guilty at the first opportunity.

The Crown Prosecutor is not at Court in order to advise or represent you as a Defendant. A lot of Crown Prosecutors will be very helpful in relation to communicating with you regarding the allegation. If for example, you have been charged with a documentary offence such as driving without insurance, they will often give you help in relation to assessing whether or not the insurance cover that you have is appropriate.

You must always remember that the Crown Prosecutor is there to present the case on behalf of the Prosecution and is under no duty to assist you as a Defendant in relation to the presentation of your case. The Crown Prosecutor however, is under a duty to make sure that they present the case in a fair way.

The Magistrates

The Magistrates are the people who sit in Court and decide issues as to whether or not a person is guilty of the offence that they are accused of and also, if relevant, the type of sentence that should be imposed. Normally the Magistrates are not legally qualified. Most Magistrates are working members of society who have decided that they want to give up some of their free time to assist in the smooth running of the criminal justice system. They get trained in various areas of the law in order to sit as a Magistrate but rely heavily on the Court Clerk (as referred to above) for advice on procedure and complicated legal issues.

The Magistrates are recruited from a large range of different backgrounds and it is considered that they are a very effective means of providing quick and efficient justice in less serious cases.

The Magistrates, alongside the Court Clerk, will try to assist you in relation to the presentation of your case. They will often ask you questions about what has happened in order to get a fuller picture of your account.

If you plead guilty to an offence, or you are found guilty of an offence then the Magistrates are responsible for deciding upon the appropriate sentence. They will often seek guidance from the Court Clerk as to their sentencing powers but the final decision on what sentence to impose is down to them.

 The District Judge

Sometimes in the Magistrates’ Court, a District Judge will sit and play the same role as the Magistrates (as outlined above). A District Judge will be a qualified Solicitor or Barrister with considerable experience in criminal law. The District Judge will be assisted by a Court Clerk who will provide a more administrative role because the District Judge will not need so much support in relation to legal issues or sentencing guidelines.

Again, a District Judge will help you to get across your account of events. District Judges tend to be more ‘matter of fact’ in their approach than the Magistrates would normally be. If you are appearing before a District Judge then it makes sense to be as succinct as possible in relation to your account of events, whether you are defending yourself or speaking on your own behalf in relation to what type of sentence should be imposed.

The Court Usher

The Court Usher’s job is to make sure that the Courtroom runs smoothly. He or she will assist the Magistrates, District Judge and the Court Clerk in relation to bringing Defendants into Court. It is normally the Court Usher who will make the announcement that your case has been called in. On arrival at Court, you should make yourself known to the Court Usher in whichever Courtroom that your case is listed.

If you need to leave the Court for some reason, then you should always make sure that you liaise with the Court Usher first in order that he or she is aware of that fact. You should also approach the Court Usher in the first instance if you have any particular requirements in terms of the presentation of your case.

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