Your First Time in a Courtroom
Few people have first hand experience of the various types of courts that operate across the UK. Attending court for the first time can be a stressful and daunting experience. The best way of approaching your court appearance is to gain as much information about the type of court you will be in and what will be expected of you.
What kind of Court Might I have to Attend?There are three basic courts you could be called to attend. They are a magistrates’ court that hear the vast majority of the cases in the UK. The Crown Court that hears more serious cases and the youth court that deals with young people. You will usually find that the magistrates’ court and the youth court are in the same building.
The Magistrates’ CourtIn this type of court a case can be hear by up to three judges. They can sometimes be called Justices of the Peace. The court is also open to the public who can sit and watch the cases being heard. In front of the magistrate will sit the clerk of the court. The clerks give the magistrates’ legal advice as in many cases magistrates’ is not a trained lawyer. It is rare for anyone in these courts to wear wigs, but the court usher may wear a gown. Magistrates’ courts sit without a jury. The type of offences that these courts see means that a cases can be dealt with usually within a day.
The Youth CourtThese types of court are for young people between the ages of 10 and 17. The court looks exactly the same as a magistrates’ court, but the judges that preside over cases in a youth court are specially trained to handle cases involved very young people. Youth courts sit without a jury. Cases that come before the youth court are usually concluded within a day.
The Crown CourtThe layout of a Crown Court will be familiar to you as this kind of court is often used in television programs that feature a court case. A judge will sit on a raised platform at one end of the courtroom. The judge is usually addressed as ‘your honour’. When the judge enters the courtroom everyone stands.
The clerk of the court sits in front of the judge’s bench facing the court. The clerk is usually the only person that can pass messages from the jury to the judge. The clerk is also in contact with other parts of the court building. The court will also include a sound recordist. All Crown Court cases are recorded just in case the trial goes to appeal.
The court will also have a reporter. This isn’t a member of the press, but the person that usually operates the stenograph that make a written recording of everything that is said in the courtroom.
A court usher will also be in the courtroom. It’s their job to pass any documents around the court. The barristers for the prosecution and the defence will also be in the courtroom. They stand whenever they are addressing the courtroom in general, the judge or the jury.
Behind the barristers will sit any supporting solicitors. These could be from the Crown Prosecution Service or police officers that are involved with the case being heard also sit here. The jury for the trial sits in a specific area usually near the defending barrister. Opposite the jury is the witness box.
The defendants sit in a dock with a custody officer near them. Behind the defendant is usually a small area for the public. Journalists must sit in a designated area especially for them. Outside of the courtroom itself is a smaller room where the jury retire to consider their verdict.
The Coroners’ CourtThis type of court investigates sudden or violent deaths. The cases that coroners’ courts handle are called inquests. The coroner can be a lawyer, a doctor or even both. They will call witnesses when this is appropriate to give evidence about the case. After the witness has given their evidence, the family members of the victim can also ask the witness questions. Witness statements can also be written and read out in court. The coroner will take all the evidence that is presented to them and give their verdict. Once this is given you can contact the Coroner’s Office to obtain the Death Certificate.
The CCSS (Coroners’ Court Support Service) can be a great help to anyone that is attending a coroners’ court for the first time. You can contact the CCSS by telephoning: 0207 802 4763.