Magistrates Court

As soon as anyone is charged with a criminal offence however minor or serious the case always starts at the Magistrates Court. The cases will next be tried by a District Judge or two/three magistrates usually referred to as a Lay Bench.

Your case may remain at the Magistrates Court or be transferred immediately to the Crown Court depending on the charge you face, the Court’s view of its seriousness or if you choose to be tried in the Crown Court.

Furthermore, our team of trained and accomplished advocates that practice in the Magistrates Court, conduct standard remand hearings through to trials. What’s more they are there to represent you and they have the expertise, knowledge and presence in Court to leave you feeling assured and comfortable that everything that can be said or done on your behalf is being done.

What is a summary offence?

These cases are less serious and include things like low level motoring offences, disorderly behaviour and minor assaults. Summary offences will only be tried at a Magistrates Court.

What is an either-way offence?

These include cases such as theft, burglary and drug offences that can vary greatly in seriousness. Theft, for example, could involve someone stealing anything from a chocolate bar to a priceless antique.

Magistrates decide whether a case is sufficiently serious to be heard in the Crown Court. But if they decide the case should stay in the magistrates’ court, the defendant can then choose whether their trial should take place in the Crown Court instead.

If the defendant chooses to stay within the Magistrates Court the magistrates can still decide to send them for trial in the Crown Court if they are found guilty and the offence is serious enough.

What is the maximum sentence that a Magistrates court can impose?

The maximum sentence at a Magistrates court for a single either-way offence is 6 months’ imprisonment and/or a fine.

If there are two or more either-way offences the maximum sentence increases to 12 months’ imprisonment. There are circumstances where this could be increased for example if there is an additional consecutive sentence for breach of a suspended sentence.

Funding for Magistrates Court cases?

Legal aid may be available to pay the costs of cases. This will depend on whether it’s eligible as part of a ‘means’ and ‘merit’ test.

The Means test looks at your financial situation. If you’re on Government benefits or earning less than £12k per year you should be eligible. For those earning between £12k and £22k, a more detailed check will be done. And for those earning over £22k Legal Aid will not be available.

As well as the Means test you must also pass the Merit test. A case will pass the Means test for a number of reasons including

  • being under 18 years old
  • there is a realistic chance of a prison sentence if found guilty
  • potential to lose their job if convicted
  • the case requires witnesses to be traced and interviewed

If you are not eligible for Legal Aid then you will need to fund your case independently or go ahead without legal representation. Our solicitors are skilled at providing a professional service to all of our clients and you can find out more about privately funding your case here.