The magistrates’ court is known for dealing with minor criminal court cases as well as a lot of civil court cases. It is the first port of call for all criminal cases; the more serious crimes are moved on to the Crown Court after initial attendance of the magistrates’ court. 95% of court cases are dealt with by the magistrates.
Magistrates can hear a range of court cases. Typical examples of criminal cases dealt with by the magistrates’ court would be:
- road traffic offences
- handling stolen goods
- being drunk and disorderly.
These are dealt with either by:
Justices of the Peace: Justices of the Peace are unqualified and assisted by a legally qualified court clerk. The Justices of the Peace are unpaid (apart from expenses).
District judges: the district judges have legal qualifications and experience and will receive some payment. In Northern Ireland, cases are heard by paid magistrates only.
It is usual for a magistrate to hear cases that have arisen in the local area of the court. However, in some circumstances, a single trial can be held for a series of crimes committed in different areas, for example, a series of burglaries committed across a number of areas would be dealt with as one case in a local court close to one of the offences.
There is a limit for sentencing and charges in the magistrates’ court, which is why court cases of a more severe nature are moved on to be dealt with by the Crown Court. The maximum sentence for imprisonment delivered by the magistrates’ court is 6 months. The maximum fine deliverable by the court is £5,000. If court cases are sent to the Crown Court, a longer sentence or higher fine can be administered.
Civil Cases in the Magistrates’ Court
Magistrates deal with many civil issues as well as criminal court cases. Some of these issues could be:
- civil debts owed, i.e. council tax arrears, national insurance, income tax and VAT arrears
- partner/spouse issues like maintenance owed or having to remove a partner from the home
- welfare of children, i.e. adoption procedures or supervision orders.
Youth Court Cases
The youth court is a separate area within the magistrates’ court. It deals with young people between 10-17 years old who have committed minor criminal offences. Not all the same rules apply in regards to sentencing and charges in a youth court. Magistrates hearing trials in a youth court have specialised training and can issue a custodial sentence known as a Detention Training Order (DTO), which can apply for up to 2 years. If a child defendant has committed a crime for which an adult defendant would be sentenced for more than 14 years, the court case will be moved on to be dealt with by the Crown Court.
Need legal advice?
If you are someone that is facing a trial at the Magistrates’ court or if you are taking someone to court, then please feel free to ask us for some advice. Fill in the box to the right of this page and tell us a little bit about the situation. A member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.