The magistrates’ court is an important part of the justice system and has a history that can be traced back over 600 years.
The magistrates’ court accounts for 95% of court cases in England and deals with trials mainly of a criminal and civil nature.
The cases within the magistrates’ court are dealt with in two ways. Either with:
- Justices of the peace
- District judges
Justices of the peace are usually a panel of 3 magistrates additional to a legally qualified court clerk, collectively known as a ‘bench’. These individuals are usually assigned to local justice areas; however they all follow the Magistrates’ Court Act 2003. The magistrates on a bench are unpaid, although they will receive some funding for expenses (due to loss of earnings or travel). The magistrate members of the bench are not usually legally qualified, which is why they have a legally qualified court clerk to assist the bench. There are approximately 30,000 magistrates within England and Wales.
District judges must have at least 2 years experience as a deputy district judge along with 7 years experience as a solicitor or and barrister. The district judges deal with the complex areas of law and sit on their own as opposed to within a panel. There are only 130 district judges in England and Wales.
The magistrates’ court is the first court to attend when being charged with a criminal offence. Depending on the severity, the case could be dealt with by the magistrates or is moved on to the crown court. The court deals with minor offences such as fines up to £5,000 and sentences of up to 6 months imprisonment.
Duty solicitors are present at all hearings in the magistrates’ court so they can represent a defendant that has not appointed a solicitor of their own. In the more minor of offences defendants are expected to represent themselves.
There are 3 reasons for which someone might be summonsed to a magistrates’ court. This could be:
- In response to a summons
- In custody (when the defendant has been detained in a police cell and not offered bail)
- Under bail (the defendant has been released prior to the court hearing)
If you are facing a trial in magistrates’ court or taking someone to magistrates’ court, then feel free to contact us for advice. Fill in the box to the right of this page and tell us a little about your situation. A member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.