Magistrates' court proceedings - what to expect

By: J D Spicer Zeb

Date: 16 May 2019

A witness gives evidence in court in front of three magistrates. There are many reasons why someone might attend magistrates' court. From defending a case to providing witness testimony, or just supporting someone from the gallery, you never know why you might end up in a courtroom.

Here is what you can expect if you ever attend a magistrates' court date.

Preparing for your appearance

If you are not used to wearing a suit and tie, don’t feel like you must for court. However, you should try to present the best possible version of yourself.

Dress in something neat and fairly smart, and clean up your appearance. If nothing else, it will give a positive impression and persuade the magistrates that you are taking the proceedings seriously.

Magistrates' court proceedings

All criminal cases heard in the UK start in a magistrates' court. Less serious offences, known as 'summary offences', are dealt with there, whereas more serious cases ('indictable offences') have their preliminary hearings before being passed to the crown court.

When everyone is present in the courtroom, the prosecution will outline the details of the case. They will then call on any witnesses they have to give testimony. During this process, the defence also has the opportunity to question the witnesses in a process called cross-examination.

Afterwards, the defendant’s representation at magistrates’ court will be allowed to introduce witnesses and call on them for testimony. The prosecution can also cross-examine the witness if they want to.

Witness testimony may be delivered by video link if it involves a child, or someone who is particularly vulnerable and unable to properly give evidence in front of the court.

When all evidence has been presented, the prosecution and defence will make their closing statements. These are directed to the three magistrates presiding over the hearing, and are a final chance for both parties to convince the magistrates that they are the ones who should win the case.

Who hears the case

Unlike in a crown court, there is no judge or jury at a magistrates' court. In a preliminary hearing, the case will most likely be heard by a panel of three magistrates. Magistrates are volunteers from the local community who have undergone training to hear the case.

The magistrates will ideally be of mixed gender, age, and ethnicity, in order to minimise bias as much as possible. Having three people on the bench will also nearly always ensure a result, as there is no way opinion can be split between the magistrates.

Cases can also be heard by a single magistrate, known as a district judge, and who will have a prior legal background and experience in the profession.

Simpler than it seems

A day at court might seem intimidating, but it is a well-oiled machine. As long as you remain polite and courteous, the court officials will help ensure that everyone is where they need to be at the right time.

Take your time, arrive promptly, and try to relax, no matter what reason you have for being there.

Copyright 2019. Featured post made possible by J D Spicer Zeb.

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