Magistrates or Crown Court Trial
Many offences range widely in seriousness; a theft can be of a bag of sweets, or of a million pounds. Such offences can be tried either in the Magistrates Court, or at the Crown Court. They are ‘either-way’ offences. You have, for now at least, the right to choose to take the matter to the Crown Court. Before doing so you should consider the different advantages and disadvantages of each venue.
- Most importantly, by tradition and by experience, Crown Court juries seem more prepared to enter verdicts of not guilty than are Magistrates. The usual reasoning is that Magistrates hear many hundreds of cases, and come to see defendants in a jaundiced way. Juries come with fresh minds, and possibly a better awareness of life "at the bottom of the heap". Nobody can really know, and in this field above all others, statistics are usually misleading. Comparisons are difficult, but I prefer to believe those who suggest that fifty per cent more of those who go to trial in the crown court are found not guilty than in a magistrates court.
- Crown Court judges have greater powers of sentencing. An offence which carrying six months imprisonment in the Magistrates Court, might carry three years at Crown Court. Crown Court judges are also, more ready to use their sentencing powers.
- There is a longer waiting time before the matter is dealt with in the Crown Court.
- In the Magistrates Court the overwhelming advantage is that, for the moment at least, Magistrates may impose a maximum of six months imprisonment per offence, with a total overall maximum of twelve months. Where a sentence is likely to carry a risk of sentence of imprisonment, and the sentence might test these limits, and in particular where a defendant might have to plead guilty to other offences in any event, a trial in the Magistrates Court may well be preferable.
- At the end of a case, Magistrates can say that they feel that their sentencing powers are insufficient, and send the case to the Crown Court for a Crown Court judge to sentence, in any event. For various reasons this is becoming more and more of a regular occurrence. A decision to stay in the Magistrates Court does not now promise sentence in the Magistrates Court.
- The cost of these things must always be born in mind. A trial in a Magistrates Court will normally be much cheaper to the system and possibly to the defendant than trial in the Crown Court. A defendant choosing a Crown Court trial for a minor matter might find that he has more costs to pay in any event.
The final decision must often be made quite quickly, and in the absence of much of the information we would want. We will advise as best we can, but the decision remains yours.