The Court System

Courts

In general terms the court at which a case is tried depends on the seriousness of the offence. The majority of cases are heard in the Magistrate’s Court. If it’s an indictable-only offence such as murder or rape, the involvement of the Magistrate’s Court is minor and the case is referred to the Crown Court.

County Court

The County Court, often referred to as the ‘Small Claims Court’ deals with civil matters, such as:

  • Claims for debt repayment, including enforcing court orders and return of goods bought on credit
  • Personal Injury
  • Breach of contract concerning goods or property
  • Family issues such as divorce or adoption
  • Housing disputes, including mortgage and council rent arrears and re-possession.

Crown Court

The Crown Court deals with more serious criminal cases such as murder, rape or robbery, some of which are on appeal or referred from Magistrates’ courts. Trials are heard by a Judge and a 12 person jury. Members of the public are selected for jury service or may have to go to court as witnesses.

Magistrate’s courts

95% of cases are completed at Magistrate’s court, as well as many civil cases e.g. family matters, liquor licensing and betting and gaming. Cases are usually heard by a panel of three magistrates (Justices of the Peace) supported by a Court Clerk.

Magistrates cannot normally order sentences of imprisonment that exceed 6 months (or 12 months for consecutive sentences), or fines exceeding £5000. In cases triable either by the magistrates’ court or the Crown Court the offender may be committed by the magistrates to the Crown Court for sentencing if a more severe sentence is thought necessary.

Youth Court

10-17 year olds will usually have their case dealt with in the Youth Court.

Cases in the Youth Court will be heard by magistrates or by a District Judge. The court is not open to the general public and only those directly involved in the case will normally be allowed to attend. The press may attend court and report the proceedings

Youth Courts have a range of sentences available to them. These are designed to prevent further offending and include the making of a Detention and Training Order of up to two years.

Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the Government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. It is an independent body that works closely with the police.

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales, the CPS is responsible for:

  • Advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • Reviewing cases submitted by the police
  • Where the decision is to prosecute, determine the charge in all but minor cases
  • Preparing cases for court
  • Presentation of cases at court.

The role of the Service is to prosecute cases firmly, fairly and effectively when there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and when it is in the public interest to do so.

The Service plays a central role in bringing to justice perpetrators of anti-social behaviour by:

  • Prosecuting anti-social behaviour-related offences
  • Seeking ‘orders on conviction’ after a person has been convicted and sentenced for an offence and
  • Prosecuting breaches of anti-social behaviour orders.

For further information about the Crown Prosecution Service visit www.cps.gov.uk.

Probation Services

The National Probation Service aims to:

  • Protect the public
  • Reduce re-offending
  • Punish offenders in the community
  • Ensure offenders’ awareness of the effects of crime on the victims of crime and the public
  • Rehabilitate offenders.

The service supervises people who have been sentenced following breaches of criminal behaviour orders, and people with criminal behaviour orders who are being supervised for other matters.

It also finds unpaid, supervised work within local communities for those sentenced to undertake community service, which can help with graffiti removal and community clean-ups.

Youth Offending Teams

Young people are more likely to be victims of anti-social behaviour (ASB) than perpetrators of it, but when they are responsible for ASB, youth offending teams play a critical role in tackling it.

All members of Youth Offending Teams have expertise in areas relevant to the care and rehabilitation of young offenders. These may include areas such as the Police Service, Probation Service, Social Services, the Health Service, Education and Psychology.  They are overseen by the Youth Justice Board.

Youth offending teams will:

  • Assess the risk and protective factors in a young person’s life that relate to their offending behaviour to enable effective interventions to be implemented.
  • Provide support to young people on police and court bail.
  • Provide support to young people in the court setting.
  • Supervise and manage the cases of young offenders.
  • Support young people who have been released into the community from custody.

The Youth Justice Board website – http://www.justice.gov.uk/about/yjb – includes comprehensive information about youth offending teams and the youth justice system in England and Wales.