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Information about the Magistrates court

By: Dave Howell - Updated: 4 May 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Magistrates Court Justices Of The Peace

Most of the criminal court cases that are heard in England and Wales take place in a Magistrates Court. A Magistrates' Court is usually presided over by three magistrates. They are called Justices of the Peace. The panel of judges is often called the Bench. Magistrates are not paid, but they can claim for expenses and loss of earnings. There are roughly 30,000 magistrates currently working in England and Wales. You can locate your local Magistrates' Court on the HMCS website: www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/HMCSCourtFinder.

In addition to the ordinary magistrate, England and Wales also have 130 District Judges. They have more formal legal qualifications than a magistrate. They usually sit alone and handle more complex and serious offences such as fraud. In a Magistrates' Court sentences of more than 6 months cannot normally be handed down, or fines over £5,000. If the offender's crime is more serious and requires a higher fine or a longer sentence, the Magistrate's Court will refer the case to the Crown Court.

Cases at the Magistrates' Court

Most of the cases that come before a Magistrates' Court will be bought by the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS). However, some government departments such as HM Revenue and Customs and the Health and Safety Executive may bring their own cases. The CPS will also have a representative in court to prosecute their case.

Defendants who come before a Magistrates' Court will either be in police custody, are on bail, or have been summoned to court (if they haven't paid their council tax for instance). For defendants there is a duty solicitor if they have not brought their own to court. Often with minor cases such as motoring offences the defendant will represent themselves.

When the court is in session the defendant who is before the magistrate for a summary offence (that is a petty crime that doesn't need a jury to decide on guilt or innocence) will be asked to make a plea. If this is not guilty a date will be set for the trial. If the charge is an either way offence (in that the cases could be heard equally at a Magistrates' or Crown Court) the Magistrate will decide how to proceed after arguments by the prosecution and defence have been heard. If the offence is indictable (that have the right of trial by jury) the case will be sent straight to the Crown Court. If the plea is guilty the Magistrate will consider sentence, but if the crime is serious they may refer the case to the Crown Court that can impose higher sentences than the Magistrate is allowed.

Criminal Offences

There are a number of criminal cases that can go before a Magistrates' Court. They are divided into three categories and include:
  • Summary Offences. Cases that fall into this category include driving offences and disorderly conduct.
  • Triable either way offences. Cases that fall into this category include serious assault and theft. Note that these cases because they are more serious can also be tried in a Crown Court.
  • Indictable offences. Cases that fall into this category include rape and murder. All this category of offences can also be tried at a Crown Court. The Magistrates' Court will decide if bail will be allowed before the case moves to the Crown Court.

Civil Offences

A Magistrates' Court has a number of civil duties that it carries out. These include:
  • Cases concerning the welfare of children.
  • Granting gambling and betting licences.
  • Dealing with people who don't pay their council tax.
  • Family law including maintenance orders.
  • Granting alcohol licences.

Magistrates' Courts also issue warrants that have been requested by their local police force and also handle cases in the Youth Court when offenders are aged between 10 and 17. The magistrates that preside over youth courts have specialised training in dealing with young offenders. Magistrates' in a youth court can impose a custodial sentence known as a DTO or Detention and Training Order that can last up to two years.

Magistrates' Courts in Scotland

Depending on the type of offence, summary crimes in Scotland are heard by the Sheriff Court or the District Court. As in England and Wales, one or more Justices of the Peace will judge offenders in these courts. Offences heard in District Courts are of two types. The solemn procedure hearing takes place before a judge and 15 jury members. In these cases, the offender can be found guilty, not guilty or not proven. The summary procedure is a case where the judge sits without a jury.

Magistrates' Courts in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has its own magistrates' court system. County Courts are similar to the Magistrates' Courts in England and Wales. They deal with petty crimes and also offences linked to young people and family disputes.

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[Add a Comment]
@spread - What I can't understand is if someone is innocent and confident they hadn't been drinking why they would refuse to give a breath test? Surely they'd want to prove themselves right! Then the whole situation would have been solved instantly without your son having to go to court. The fact he refused to oblige can not possibly work in his favour.
Andy - 5-May-17 @ 11:41 AM
my son is due at magistrates ct for failing to provide a breath test. He wasnt driving or in his vehicle at the time but outside his house walking his dog. He had been at home for 15 minutes before the police arrived. He had drove home from the pub but had only 1 pint there. he didnt see why he should give a breath test. He was aressted and locked up all night without being interviewed or given a solicitor.Will the duty solicitor be able to help him on the day of the court appearence?
spread - 4-May-17 @ 1:49 PM
I may have to go to court for my previous employee saying I used an email with workers details to use for myself and to give to another company which I didn't I'm concerned if I have to go to court I have a pre booked holiday booked would courts change the date
Petal - 24-Mar-17 @ 11:57 AM
I'm due in Magistrates Court for theft of employment / Fraud.... I haven't spoken to a solicitor yet but have been given advice to speak to the one at court... Could really do with a miracle if I'm honest...
GP14 - 15-Mar-17 @ 3:39 PM
I had a drink at partners and went for a cigarette in car as we don't smoke in the house and it was raining. I fell asleep with engine switched on as I turned heating on, i stopped drinking at 11pm and I blew 37 at roadside at 3:30 however i wasn't tested on canic machine at station until 5:40 I blew 49 and 47. I also had pyjamas on under coat and pair of jeans I threw on top to run to car. Where do I stand? Advice please?
Danny - 14-Mar-17 @ 6:50 AM
Lee - Your Question:
Due in magistrates court tomorrow, racial harassment, section 28 (no assault took place, just aggressive argument, never been in trouble before, first offence etc) no legal aid as on no benefits stall, can't afford solicitor. should I be worried? Thanks.

Our Response:
You can see more via the sentencing guidelines link here which should answer your question.
CourtroomAdvice - 2-Mar-17 @ 2:31 PM
Due in magistrates court tomorrow, racial harassment, section 28 (no assault took place, just aggressive argument, never been in trouble before, first offence etc) no legal aid as on no benefits stall, can't afford solicitor.. should I be worried? Thanks.
Lee - 1-Mar-17 @ 4:54 PM
need advice friend mine charge abusive threat behaviour he 16 never trouble but police get 2 years he so scare made mustake we go prision as first time
Sarah - 8-Feb-17 @ 10:03 PM
To make matters worse for me due to sleeping daytime ready for my night security shifts she mostly picked up the mail and dvla and bristol magistrate court both sent me letters but due to she always put them in places i cant see them or keep em back a week+ before handing them to me n all she say is she forgot about them, now to be honest im worried sick everyday now due to i was planning on trying to join m.o.d civil service or maybe as a Pcso but i fear this goin to ruin my chances of security screenings and etc now so what should i expect as outcome please i do have a clean criminal record aswell due to a excellent suppotive fiancee of 14 years and 12 year old daughter but we live seperate at the momment, please help.
Paul - 19-Jan-17 @ 7:56 PM
Hi, on 19th dec 2016 i recieved a magistrates court summon reason being a vehicle that was registered in my name but a car i was only going to be borrowing temporaily for work use,now the vehicle had no tax or etc n failed an m.o.t which the friend/landlady told me to put it in a carpark which she assured me was classed off the road, when i dropped the car there she then took key off me n said she deal with the car n m.o.t work as i work nights and sleep most the day time from that day on car was in her possession whole time it got registered in my name n never knew where car was which i have witnesses thats wrote statements for me. During this time work colleagues drove me and from work 26miles away which i then decided to start staying at work accommadation 5 to 6 days aweek when v5 turnt up she hidden it away as she kept messing me about for taking possession over once m.o.t'ed which never happened due to engine overheating problem i kept pestering her to either get car sorted or allow me v5 to register car bak to her but she did'nt few months later so from june to august/sept she kept putting my request off but the car was parked on a public road 2 roads away from which i had no idea about at all so dvla are after me but i did sent a non guilty letter to both the court and dvla which i now have to appear on 8th feb in southampton which got transferred.
Paul - 19-Jan-17 @ 7:47 PM
I received a summons to attend Magistrates court under section 444 (1) for failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil. I would like to plea not guilty as my daughters attendance to school is regular, the FPN issued by NCC looks at a 12 week period and not her attendance over the whole academic year, which was 90%. I've sent my evidence to the council, along with appeal letter and will take my evidence and appeal with me to court - will a duty solicitor be able to represent me? and will this go to trial?
VjB - 11-Jan-17 @ 10:27 AM
Hi, I am due in magistrates court soon for a drink driving offence...for which I am pleaing guilty. Will the court be sending any last minute paperwork to my home address as I am worried about my reputation being affected if a housemate where to see any letters for me stamped by CPS or the courts
CB - 1-Jan-17 @ 2:37 PM
My mum suffered abuse by a care worker along with other patients this care worker was found guilty in November but failed to come to court for sentencing last week and again today a bench warrant is being issued . Can you please explain what this means and what happens next. She is also up on charges of punching a witness outside court and verbally abusing and threatening myself so the warrant is for both cases. I'm at mywits end over this and now she is playing the mental unstable card . Should that not have been done earlier in the trial?I'd be so grateful to any advice you can give me . Yours gratefully Jo-Anne .
Jojos - 19-Dec-16 @ 5:12 PM
I have been summoned to a full court hearing to which I have completed paper work and pleaded not guilty. The date I have been given I am away on holiday which was booked already. Is it possible for the court to change this date?
OJ - 16-Dec-16 @ 8:24 PM
Iv been summoned to court and my daughter has been invited as witness and she does not want to go . What will happen if she says she not coming??
Dani - 1-Dec-16 @ 10:50 AM
I'm to attend the magistrates court next week, I think the crime is fraud, due to not informing correct benefits when increasing my hours, I cannot find anyone who will help me to represent me, I just cannot afford this, I'm really worried and scared, what other options do i have .
Tray - 19-Nov-16 @ 9:13 PM
Hi I'm going to magistrates in a few days and I'm wondering if I need to be represented there, I'm getting done for drink driving, driving with no insurance and no licence, thanks
Connor - 27-Oct-16 @ 6:22 AM
concerned - Your Question:
My son is due in court on a driving offence can he be dealt with in his abscess or will a warrant go out for his arrest

Our Response:
Much depends upon what the driving offence is. If it is a minor offence then it can be resolved by letter, whereas a more serious offence such as possible disqualification will require personal attendance. However, if a person has been charged and bailed, they must attend. In other cases, an individual may be able to avoid attending by having legal representation present in their place. Your son may have been given information on whether he should attend in court/police correspondence, or he may wish to seek legal advice if a legal professional is involved in his defence.
CourtroomAdvice - 17-Oct-16 @ 11:11 AM
My son is due in court on a driving offence can he be dealt with in his abscess or will a warrant go out for his arrest
concerned - 16-Oct-16 @ 9:47 AM
Shaz - Your Question:
Hi just wondering what would effect my husband getting a tag, would past failed to attend a court hearing go against him? The court hearing was for a different matter but was released on bail for he's current conviction before sentenced to prison? Any help please

Our Response:
You can find out more via the link here.
CourtroomAdvice - 23-Aug-16 @ 10:59 AM
Hi just wondering what would effect my husband getting a tag, would past failed to attend a court hearing go against him? The court hearing was for a different matter but was released on bail for he's current conviction before sentenced to prison? Any help please
Shaz - 22-Aug-16 @ 3:37 PM
I am looking for advice as worried and concerned..I have been issued a court date with a magistrate regarding a parking ticket...i had not recieved any notice on my vehicle. I have only recieved also one letter where i had to plea guilty or not guilty...i was not aware of the fine so plead not guilty because of this..i am having terrible issues with my address and alot of post is not being delivered and being sent 2miles down the road..what can i do? What is the worst outcome of the case please
Joe - 21-Aug-16 @ 7:37 PM
myself and my partner got arrested and are currently on bail, i have never been in trouble before and I only went to pick my partner up and was arrested for conspiracy and assisting an offender ,my partner has since been jailed for other offences ,I am just wanting to know if he does get charged as this offence was before the 1s he is serving now what is the sentencing on pre date cases ? and if I do get charged being my first offence what is the likely outcome will I go to prison ?
clueless - 19-Aug-16 @ 10:20 AM
I was assaulted a few weeks back and the other man was arrested. the police called and told me that he had admitted to the assault and was charged with common assault and he would appear in court for sentencing on 09/08/16. I have not been involved since as he had admitted to it and it was the police who charged him. I would like to find out what he was sentenced, is their anyway to find this out without knowing his name or the investigating officers ID number?
cameronlynn - 10-Aug-16 @ 11:08 AM
my daughter was assailed by another girl it was taken to magistrates courtwe were not allowed to hear the girls statement and my daughter was bullied in court by the girls solicitor the girl who committed the offence sent a text message appolagise get for hitting my daughter weeks before the court hearing police statement of the text message was takenthe girl was found not guilty of hitting my daughter even though my daughter had witness to the assault and the police were calledwhy was the message not a admission of guilt
gilly - 25-Jul-16 @ 6:59 AM
Yas - Your Question:
My husband was arrested and at the time I stated to police that he had strangled me and threatened me with a knife, in which I gave a statement and signed it. However this is not true as I was actually suffering from a severe panic attack at the time in which I thought my husband had done this to me as this is how severe my panic attacks are where I feel like I am being strangled.Other than this going back a while ago me and my husband was having an argument in which he grabbed my top where my eldest son started hitting my husband and my husband grabbed him by the throat and caused him pain in which he was deeply sorry for as it was an accident and we did resolve it. But my son has gone and told police about what happened to him and has made a statement and signed it. Basically my husband is currently on bail for three weeks and I was told by the police that he isn't allowed to contact me or my eldest son but can see his other two children, however social services who are now involved and talking about putting my children on the child protection list and have stated he can't see any of his children at all which has caused me confusion. Due to my severe pain attacks I have got a letter from my doctor asking for my medical issue to be considered in releasing my husband off bail in which the Detective Constable in charge of the case doesn't believe what I say and thinks I am lying and I reckons I have lied to the police, of which is not the case as I would never accuse anyone of doing anything they haven't done, I truly believed at the time of my panic attacks that my husband had did this to me but he never.  I am seeking help for my depression etc.Me and my eldest son wanted to drop the charges by retracting our statements but was told that the CPS won't allow us too.I basically would like some advice on how I can go about helping my husband in this situation as he hasn't done anything wrong and if my doctors letter would be of any help for the situation he is in. Also I would like to know that if for example he was charged what would he be looking at in terms of punishment, would it be prison, fine and so forth etc.I really need some advice on what to do as I don't want my husband been punished for something he hasn't done. 

Our Response:
I'm afraid if the CPS wishes to take the matter further, then there is little you can do about this. The CPS work on the basis that it is crucial that first and foremost prosecutors proactively address the security and safety of the victim(s), and any children from the point of charge and throughout the prosecution. It is also important that efforts amied at gathering evidence to build a robust prosecution case are not focussed solely on the evidence of the victim (s) i.e your and your son's evidence alone. I can only suggest you seek legal advice regarding this matter.
CourtroomAdvice - 19-Jul-16 @ 10:48 AM
My husband was arrested and at the time I stated to police that he had strangled me and threatened me with a knife, in which I gave a statement and signed it. However this is not true as I was actually suffering from a severe panic attack at the time in which I thought my husband had done this to me as this is how severe my panic attacks are where I feel like I am being strangled. Other than this going back a while ago me and my husband was having an argument in which he grabbed my top where my eldest son started hitting my husband and my husband grabbed him by the throat and caused him pain in which he was deeply sorry for as it was an accident and we did resolve it. But my son has gone and told police about what happened to him and has made a statement and signed it.  Basically my husband is currently on bail for three weeks and I was told by the police that he isn't allowed to contact me or my eldest son but can see his other two children, however social services who are now involved and talking about putting my children on the child protection list and have stated he can't see any of his children at all which has caused me confusion.  Due to my severe pain attacks I have got a letter from my doctor asking for my medical issue to be considered in releasing my husband off bail in which the Detective Constable in charge of the case doesn't believe what I say and thinks I am lying and I reckons I have lied to the police, of which is not the case as I would never accuse anyone of doing anything they haven't done, I truly believed at the time of my panic attacks that my husband had did this to me but he never.  I am seeking help for my depression etc. Me and my eldest son wanted to drop the charges by retracting our statements but was told that the CPS won't allow us too. I basically would like some advice on how I can go about helping my husband in this situation as he hasn't done anything wrong and if my doctors letter would be of any help for the situation he is in.  Also I would like to know that if for example he was charged what would he be looking at in terms of punishment, would it be prison, fine and so forth etc. I really need some advice on what to do as I don't want my husband been punished for something he hasn't done. 
Yas - 18-Jul-16 @ 10:49 AM
My mom recieved a 'letter' from the court yesterday saying she had to get out by today would this be real or is the landlord trying to scare her out so he doesnts face costs
Nikki - 8-Jul-16 @ 10:24 AM
what are the court proceedings in a criminal case?discuss the case before the magistrate.. and who present the case first?
mos - 8-Apr-16 @ 8:30 AM
I'm defending myself in magistrates court , do I have to sit in the dock or can I sit as my own defence in court room
Peter - 1-Apr-16 @ 12:29 PM
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