Where you are charged with a criminal offence, your case will generally be dealt with in the Magistrates Court for trial or sentence. More serious criminal cases are sent to the Crown Court.
The specialist criminal team at Eric Robinson Solicitors can handle all aspects of your case from start to finish.
Should your case serious enough to be sent to the Crown Court, then we will select a specialist Barrister from one of the many chambers that we use both in London and in the South East region. We believe that you should be offered a wide choice of Counsel. We take the selection of Counsel very seriously, and do not simply pass your case on to In-House Counsel, or a Solicitor-Advocate. We offer a bespoke service to best suit you and your case.
If your case is to be dealt with in the Magistrates Court, your advocate will generally be a junior barrister or one of our own solicitors.
Preliminary Pre-Trial Hearings
There are generally three types of formal pre-trial hearings.
First, if when your case was sent to the Crown Court you told the Magistrates’ that you intended to plead guilty, your case may well be brought forward and could be heard within a matter of days. At that hearing your guilty plea will be entered and you will be sentenced, unless the Judge first requires a pre-sentence report to be prepared by the Probation Service.
Secondly, if your case has been sent to the Crown Court without a guilty plea having been indicated, the case will probably be listed for a Preliminary Hearing. At that hearing the Crown Court judge is likely to give directions for the prosecuting authority to serve the full case papers against you. Your case will also be listed for a Plea and Case Management hearing.
The Plea and Case Management hearing is the third, and most important, of the formal pre-trial hearings. It takes place only after the full case papers have been served and the Court will expect you at this point to enter your plea. If you plead guilty to the charge it is likely the case will be adjourned for a short period to allow time for a pre-sentence report to be prepared by the Probation Service. The length of the adjournment will depend on whether you have been remanded in custody or on bail. If you propose to enter mixed pleas (guilty to some offences and not guilty to others) the prosecuting authority may at that stage be in a position to say whether those pleas are acceptable to them or not. If they are, then the prosecuting authority may withdraw or discontinue the matters to which you have indicated a not guilty plea. The Court would then look to sentence you, usually with the benefit of a pre-sentence report. If however the prosecution refuses to accept the pleas offered, then the matter will be adjourned for trial. This also applies if you enter not guilty pleas to all offences you face. If that happens, the Judge is likely to make a number of directions relating to administrative matters such as setting a trial date, and the service of further evidence by both prosecution and defence.
Committals for Sentence
If you have entered one or more guilty pleas at the Magistrates’ Court, your case may be transferred to the Crown Court for sentencing. This happens where the magistrates feel that their maximum sentencing powers may not be sufficient, taking account of the prosecution case at its highest, and without regard to any defence mitigation.
The Not Guilty Trial Process
When your case is called at the Crown Court, you will be asked to confirm your identity as the defendant in the Crown Court dock and to confirm your not guilty pleas to the allegations that are set out on the indictment. The jury will be selected and sworn.
The prosecutor will then briefly outline what the prosecuting authority says is its case against you. They will usually also briefly outline the law, concentrating on a particular element which may be of relevance to your case. The prosecutor will then start to call the prosecution witnesses who will, in turn, give their evidence. After the prosecutor has examined them first “in chief”, we will get the opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses on your behalf, and put your case to them in terms of fact and credibility. Once we have cross-examined those prosecution witnesses, the prosecutor will have an opportunity of re-examining them on any points that we have raised.
At the end of the prosecution case we may make a submission of “no case to answer”. Whether it’s appropriate to do that or not really depends on the evidence that comes out at the trial. If this submission is made, and is accepted by the Judge (in the absence of the jury), then that will be an end to the matter and the case against you will be formally discharged. If, however, the Judge concludes that there is a case to answer and to be considered by the jury or, alternatively, if it is not appropriate to make a submission at that stage at all, then we will proceed with the defence case.
We will then call you as a witness, if we have previously agreed that this should happen. You will give evidence in line with your instructions to us. You will then be cross-examined by the prosecutor, and we will have the chance to re-examine you if points arise out of the cross-examination that we need to clarify. After your evidence, any other witnesses for the defence will be called, examined in chief, cross-examined and perhaps re-examined.
At the end of the defence evidence, the prosecutor will make a closing speech to the jury outlining the evidence and law. Your advocate will then also make a closing speech to the jury dealing with issues of evidence, fact and credibility of witnesses. The Judge will then sum up to the jury, and this often involves a review of the evidence that has been heard. The Judge will then advise the jury on how those facts should be applied to the law. Submissions on issues of law may be made by either the prosecution or the defence at any time during the course of the case, in the absence of the jury.
The jury will retire to consider their verdict. If they return a not guilty verdict, that is the end of the matter. If, however, you are convicted (found guilty), it will be for the Judge to pass sentence either there and then or at some later date once reports from the Probation Service and any other authorities are available.
The not guilty trial process in the Magistrates Court is broadly similar, but not identical.
Appeals from the Magistrates Court
Appeals against conviction or sentence by magistrates are made to the Crown Court. If you are appealing against your conviction, there will be an entirely new hearing of all the evidence previously heard.
Notice of Appeal setting out the grounds for appeal should be served within 21 days from the conviction or the sentence being appealed against. We can help you prepare and serve that notice, but you should note that legal aid does not automatically cover the cost of an appeal. You should also note that by serving an appeal, you may be exposing yourself to the risk of an increased costs order or possibly spending a longer time in prison in the event that your appeal fails, and is considered to be without merit.
Appeals from the Crown Court
If your case was heard in the Crown Court, it may be possible to appeal a conviction to the Court of Appeal. Your advocate will first need to be satisfied that the Judge misdirected the jury, there was some other error in law, or there were inconsistent verdicts. These are the main grounds of appeal, but there are others.
You may be able to appeal a sentence decision of the Crown Court to the Court of Appeal, if your advocate believes that it was wrong in law or was manifestly excessive.
Strict time limits apply. Notice needs to be served within 28 days of conviction or sentence depending upon the decision being appealed against. If you were to miss that deadline, you would need the permission of the Court of Appeal before being able to begin your appeal.
Appeals from the Court of Appeal
Very rarely, it may be possible to appeal a Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court. This is only where the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court allows you to do so, agreeing that your case involves a point of law of public importance. Again, there are strict time limits but we will advise you of these and of the process in greater detail if an appeal is appropriate.
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