Criminal Courts Processes and Terminologies:

We have tried to provide a simple chronology of events that you should expect to incur and we have also provided some definitions of words, terminologies, phrases and hearing names that you are likely to encounter.

Police Station

Most people who find themselves under arrest and subject to police interview at the police station have usually been arrested by the police and taken, in custody, to the police station.  However, it can be the case that a person can attend voluntarily at the police station and by appointment to be arrested and subsequently interviewed.

The police can also interview a person about their alleged involvement in an offence without that person being under arrest and this is likely to occur more often nowadays.

If you are not under arrest then you are free to leave at any time and do not have to consent to an interview taking place at all.

If, on the other hand, you are under arrest you must be taken to the police station without delay and the circumstances of your arrest must be conveyed, by the arresting officer, to the custody sergeant who will then decide whether you can be lawfully detained so that the police may interview you and carry out any further investigations.

Once the custody sergeant has decided that you can be lawfully detained you will be booked into custody and usually placed in a cell until the police are ready to interview you.

Your detention must be reviewed regularly throughout your period in police custody and prior to charge/release.  The custody sergeant can release you at any time if he/she considers that your further detention is no longer necessary.  However to ensure that your detention is regularly reviewed and that you are not forgotten about the law requires that the sergeant considers your further detention after you have been in custody for 6 hours and then again at no longer than 9 hour intervals up to a maximum of 24 hours.  You can only be detained for longer than 24 hours and up to a maximum of 36 hours on the authority of an Inspector.  The Inspector can authorise your further detention from the 24 hour period for any period up to but not exceeding the 36 hour point.

Thereafter only a Court can authorise your detention for up to a maximum of an additional 72 hours.  The police must make an application to the Court if they wish to detain you without charge for longer than 36 hours and following that application the Court can authorise your further detention for any period up to the maximum period permitted in law and if the Court does not authorise detention for the maximum period then further applications can be made during that period by the police to take your detention up to the maximum period permitted by law.

You are entitled to free advice and representation at the police station and access to a solicitor cannot be denied other than in the most extreme of circumstances, in terrorism cases.

Once your detention is no longer necessary or lawful the police must either charge you, bail you to attend back at a later date pending further enquiries or release you without any further action.

If you are released without any further action then that will usually be an end to the matter.

If you are released on police bail then you will usually be required to attend back at the police station on a future date.  You must attend on that date unless you are advised to the contrary.  If you do not attend you will be committing an offence.

The police may also impose certain conditions that you must adhere to during the period of your bail.  Such conditions can be challenged in the Magistrates’ Court if the Sergeant will not agree a variation of them.

If you are charged then you will either be granted bail by the police to attend at the local Magistrates’ Court several days’ later and again the bail can have certain conditions attached or you will be kept in custody by the police to be produced at the next available Court sitting which will usually be the following morning unless that happens to be a Sunday in which case you will be kept in custody until the Monday.  The Court does sit on a Saturday morning.

Hearings in the Magistrates’ Court

At this first hearing the Crown Prosecution Service will supply us with the significant statements in your case and if the matter is straightforward you will be asked to enter a plea.  More complicated cases my, in rare circumstances, be adjourned for further instructions by either the Crown Prosecution Service or by ourselves.

Plea Before Venue: If the charges are such that they can be heard in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court (either way offences) then you will be invited by the Court to indicate a plea.  Before you make the decision your case worker will discuss matters with you fully.  If you indicate a guilty plea, then the Magistrates may proceed to Sentence, adjourn for Pre-Sentence Reports or commit your case to the Crown Court.  If you do not indicate a plea or plead not guilty, then a decision is made by the Court as to whether your case will be heard at the Magistrates’ Court or at the Crown Court.

In the case of either way offences the Magistrates’ Court will usually consider, based on the prosecution facts and your previous convictions, whether the matter is so serious that they cannot deal with the matter.  If they decline jurisdiction to deal with the matter then you will have no alternative but to have your matter dealt with in the Crown Court.  If the Court accepts jurisdiction to deal with your case then you can choose to take it to the Crown Court if you wish.  You will obviously be fully advised as to the merits of both a Magistrates’ Court and a Crown Court case so far as it is relevant to your matter.  If the matter is to be heard at the Crown Court the case will be adjourned and the next hearing will be in the Crown Court for plea.

Before the Plea Before Venue Hearing you will be invited to make an appointment at our office so that we can discuss all aspects of your case and provide advice on your options in relation to the above.

Summary Only Matters:  This is the definition given to offences that can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court.  Enclosed is a non-exhaustive list of summary only offences but you will note summary only offences include the more minor offences and most traffic related offences.

Either Way Offences: As explained above either way offences are offences that can be tried either in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court.  Enclosed is a non-exhaustive list of either way offences.

Indictable Only Offences: Indictable only offences are offences that can only be dealt with in the Crown Court.  You will still make your first appearance following charge before the magistrates but they will simply transfer your case to the Crown Court as a matter of procedure and you will be provided with a date in due course when you will make your first appearance in the Crown Court.  Enclosed is a non-exhaustive list of indictable only offences.

Pre-Trial Review:  If you have pleaded not guilty and you are going to have a trial in the Magistrates’ Court then before the trial the Court will sometimes list a Pre Trial Review or Case Management Hearing.  At this administrative hearing the Court will assess the issues relevant to the case and if necessary order upon those issues and so hope that by the time the trial date comes around there will be no issues outstanding that will prejudice the trial from proceeding.

Trial: This is the hearing whereby your case will be heard in full and a finding of guilt or otherwise will be made.  A trial in the Magistrates’ Court will either involve a single District Judge or a Bench of 3 Lay Magistrates.  A trial at the Crown Court will be heard by a Judge sitting with a Jury of 12 of your peers.  You must attend any hearing when you are subject to bail but more importantly you must attend your trial if you are to put forward your defence.  If you do not attend then a trial can proceed in your absence and that will only prejudice the outcome.

Pre-Sentence Reports:  These are reports prepared by the Probation Service in order to assist the Court in determining the most appropriate sentence in your case.  The Probation Service will usually meet with you, consider the evidence and outline, for the benefit of the Court, the pros and cons of the different sentencing options available to the Court.  The Court does not have to follow the recommendation in the report but we advise you to co-operate fully with the probation officer preparing the report in order to ensure the most favourable report possible in the circumstances.

Timescale:  The time taken for your case to conclude will vary depending on certain factors.  It is very difficult to estimate the likely timescale however the following is a rough guide:

Guilty plea in the Magistrates’ Court:

Your case is likely to be concluded within 3 weeks of charge.

Not guilty plea in the Magistrates’ Court

Your case is likely to be concluded within a maximum of 4 to 6 months after charge.

Crown Court

If you plead guilty in the Crown Court then your case is likely to be concluded within 6 to 9 months however following a not guilty plea in the Crown Court your case could last between 12 and 18 months before it reaches a conclusion.

Bail: If you are granted bail by the Court certain conditions may be attached to your bail by either the police or the magistrates or a Crown Court Judge.

It is important that you comply with such conditions since a breach may lead to a remand into custody pending the conclusion of the case.

You may apply to the Court to alter your bail conditions but such application must be made on notice and if you need to vary your condition, for example because you are going on holiday or because you are moving address, please provide us with plenty of notice so that we have sufficient time to make the application on your behalf.

It may be that you are granted bail without conditions and therefore the only requirement upon you would be that you attend Court on each and every occasion set by the Court.  If you fail to attend Court on the dates specified and subject to your bail you could be found guilty of an offence under the Bail Act which can result in up to 6 months’ imprisonment being imposed upon conviction.

Summons: If the Police have not charged you and bailed to you to attend at Court they may issue a summons requiring your attendance at Court.  If you receive a summons you will be provided with a date on which to attend Court.  You do not actually have to necessarily attend in person so long as you either send written representations or your solicitor attends on your behalf.

However, there are circumstances when although you are subject to summons the Court will not be able to make progress with the case in your absence.  For example, if you are going to plead guilty to an offence which may involve the Court disqualifying you from driving you will need to be present and similarly the Court cannot deal with the issue of venue in the case of an either way offence if you are not present.

Ordinarily if you appear before the Court on summons then the Court will allow you to remain on summons which will mean that you are not subject to bail.  However, in certain circumstances the Court may admit you to bail of its own volition although this is unlikely unless you are summonsed for serious matters or the Court has cause to think that you may not attend on a future date.


Summary Only Offences

  1. Most driving offences except dangerous driving, causing death by dangerous driving;
  2. Minor assaults;
  3. Minor Public Order Act offences;
  4. Low level harassment allegations

Either Way Offences 

  1. Theft;
  2. Burglary;
  3. Handling stolen goods;
  4. Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (Section 47);
  5. Wounding or GBH (Section 20);
  6. Possession of a Bladed Article;
  7. Possession of drugs;
  8. Fraud;
  9. Criminal damage over £5,000.00;
  10. Breach of Anti-Social Behaviour Order;
  11. Violent disorder;
  12. Affray;
  13. Racially Aggravated Public Order offences;
  14. More serious harassment allegations;
  15. Indecent assault;
  16. Witness intimidation;
  17. Threats to kill

Indictable Only Offences 

  1. Murder;
  2. Rape;
  3. Robbery;
  4. Conspiracy;
  5. Manslaughter;
  6. Perverting the course of justice;
  7. A third dwelling house burglary will be treated as an indictable only offence whereas a burglary is normally only an either way offence;
  8. Certain sexual grooming offences involving children;
  9. Riot offences

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