Facing a court case can be very daunting, and for many it is an experience they would rather avoid. In any case, it is best to be prepared by having some knowledge of court processes.
If you are not sure what to expect, you can always contact the magistrates’ court beforehand. The staff can explain the procedures of the court, although they will not be able to discuss the details of a particular case.
If you are unsure of the particulars involved in your case, it is well worth getting some legal advice.
Remember that the panel of magistrates themselves are not legally qualified and the result of the case is decided upon what is morally fair and right in the eyes of the panel.
On the day of the case
If someone is being detained until a court case takes place, then they will be taken directly from their police cell to the magistrates’ court.
It is suggested that the defendant arrives in court sensibly dressed and with a little time to spare. A court usher will notify the defendant when the hearing starts. There should be no conversation between witnesses involved in the case.
The legal adviser at the court will read out the offence the defendant is being charged with. It is then up to the defendant if they want to plead guilty or not guilty. If the plea is guilty then the court process dictates that there will be no hearing. The defendant is then convicted and sentenced appropriately by the court.
If the defendant’s plea is not guilty, then the court process follows these steps:
1) The prosecution puts their case forward and explains why they think the defendant committed the crime.
2) The defendant or solicitor of the defendant is given the opportunity to challenge the prosecution. They can also provide evidence if it is relevant to the case.
3) The panel of magistrates and the legal adviser take some time to consider the case and make a decision on whether they believe the defendant to be guilty or not guilty.
If the defendant is found to be not guilty, then they are acquitted and free to leave.
If the defendant is found guilty then they will be sentenced accordingly. It is likely that the court will disclose the exact sentence straight away. In determining the sentence the judge will take into account any mitigating factors such as difficult personal circumstances, remorse or a guilty plea.
If the court cannot provide a sentence straight away then they will decide whether the defendant can go home on bail or stays remanded in custody until the court process can be continued. This depends on whether the court has reason to believe that the accused may commit a crime while on bail, or not return to the court to be sentenced.
If the defendant does not agree with the results or the court processes they have experienced, they have a right to appeal.