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Tuesday, 2 October 2023

Crown Court - what it does

The Crown Court deals with serious crimes - like murder, robbery and rape. Find out what happens before and during your Crown Court trial, how to get legal advice and what happens if your sentence is delayed.

Crown Court - types of cases it deals with

The Crown Court deals with serious cases - like murder and robbery

Most criminal cases start and end at a magistrates’ court but some have to be sent to the Crown Court.

The Crown Court deals with cases that are serious - like murder or robbery.

Crown Court - sentencing and appeals

It’s possible you are found guilty in a magistrates’ court but deserve a sentence that’s more than the court can give. If this happens, your case is sent to the Crown Court for sentencing.

If you disagree with a magistrates’ court verdict, you can appeal against the decision in the Crown Court.

See ‘Magistrates’ courts - what they do’ to find out more about when cases are sent to the Crown Court.

See ‘Appealing - if you disagree with a magistrates’ court verdict’ to find out more about appealing.

Crown Court - how trials work

The Crown Court is more formal than magistrates’ courts - for example, the judge wears a gown and wig. The court is open to the public.

The Crown Court includes a jury of 12 members of the public who decide whether you’re guilty or not guilty.

If you’re found guilty, a judge decides what sentence you are given.

Before your trial

You can contact the court before the trial. Court staff can explain court procedures and what to expect on the day. They can’t discuss your case with you.

If you’re on remand (locked up) you will be brought to the trial.

It’s important to get legal advice about your case and your plea (whether you admit or deny the charge).

Arriving at court for a trial

When you arrive at the court, report to reception. You should arrive in good time.

A note is made that you have arrived and you are told where to wait.

A court usher (someone who organises the courtroom) tells you when your hearing starts.

Approaching a witness

You (or anyone with you) should not speak to a witness who is connected to your case.

What happens during the trial

If you plead guilty there’s no trial and you are sentenced by the court

The basic process of a trial is as follows.

1. You say whether you’re pleading guilty or not guilty

The court clerk reads out the offence you have been charged with. You are then asked if you want to plead guilty or not guilty.

If you say nothing, the court treats it as if you are pleading not guilty.

If you plead guilty at this stage, there’s no trial and you are convicted and sentenced by the court. You may get a less severe sentence than if you plead not guilty but are later convicted.

See ‘Being sentenced by a court - an overview’ to find out about different types of sentences.

2. The jury is 'sworn in'

The jury members are ‘sworn in’. This means they promise to listen carefully to the case so that they can give a fair verdict.

3. The prosecution ‘put their case’ against you to the jury

If you plead not guilty, the prosecution lawyer states why they think you committed the crime.

They do this by ‘presenting evidence’ in court - for example, a witness may say they saw you committing the crime.

4. You defend your case

You, or your solicitor can argue against what the prosecution say and give your own evidence. If you decide to give evidence you ‘swear’ to tell the truth. It’s a criminal offence to lie during the hearing and you could get a prison sentence if you do.

5. The jury makes its decision

At the end of the case, one member of the jury tells the court the jury's decision. This will be whether they think you are guilty or not guilty.

If you’re found not guilty

If you’re found not guilty by the jury, you are ‘acquitted’ - this means you are free to leave.

If you’re found guilty

If you’re found guilty by the jury of committing the crime, the judge will sentence you.

At this stage, your solicitor will try and lessen the sentence you are likely to get (called ‘mitigation’). For example, they may tell the judge about your personal circumstances if these can explain why you committed the crime.

The judge may let you know what your sentence is straight away.

See ‘Being sentenced by a court - an overview’ to find out about different types of sentences.

If you are sentenced at a later date

The court may not sentence you on the day because it needs more information about you (called a ‘pre-sentence report’). For example, if you have a mental health condition, the judge might want medical information about you before making a decision.

What happens to you if sentencing is delayed

The court will decide whether you:

  • can go home on ‘court bail’ until you’re sentenced - but you may have to stick to certain conditions, like reporting regularly to a police station
  • are remanded (locked up)

The court’s decision is based on whether it thinks you:

  • may commit a crime while on bail
  • may not come back to court for sentencing

If you disagree with the court's decision

If you disagree with the court’s decision - for example, you think the sentence is too harsh - you can appeal.

See ‘Appealing - if you disagree with a Crown Court verdict’ if you want to appeal.

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