Trials in Magistrates & Crown Courts
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Not guilty hearings, jury trial
Trials – The Basics
Our solicitors and barristers are genuine motoring offence specialists.
If you instruct us to act for you in the Magistrates’ Court, our experienced solicitors will give you the best chance of success. If you have a trial in the Crown Court for a serious driving offence, you will be represented by a specialist motoring law barrister.
What happens at a driving offence trial?
The purpose of a trial is for the court to decide if you are guilty or not guilty of an offence. A trial will only take place if you have pleaded not guilty to an offence and the court has set a date for a trial.
Procedures in the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court are quite different. The Crown Court is much more formal and the rules are more rigid than in the Magistrates’ Court. It is not advisable to represent yourself in the Crown Court so please get in touch if you need assistance.
Who will be at your court hearing?
You will sit in the dock or in a chair designated for the defendant.
If you have representation, your solicitor or barrister will stand on the opposite side to the prosecutor, facing the legal adviser.
In the Magistrates’ Court, there will be two or three magistrates, who are not legally qualified but have had some legal training. Alternatively, there may be one District Judge (DJ) who will be an experienced solicitor or barrister.
The Legal Adviser
In front of the Magistrates or DJ, there will be a legal adviser. They are qualified solicitors or barristers. He or she is there to assist the court and ensure that the law is applied correctly. They should not influence the decision of the court.
Facing the legal adviser will be a prosecutor acting on behalf of the police. They are also usually qualified solicitors or barristers. Sometimes unqualified police representatives deal with the initial hearings, but not trials.
Most criminal proceedings are held in open courts so members of the public are permitted to go into the courtroom.
Members of the press are also permitted to attend and report on the proceedings.
There may be prosecution witnesses who will give evidence against you but they will not be allowed in court until it is time to give their evidence.
Prosecution witnesses are there to help the prosecution prove their case and you may not agree with what they say. You or your solicitor will get the chance to ask them questions after they have told the court what they want to say. The purpose of this is to ‘test their evidence’ and is known as cross-examination.
If you have witnesses giving evidence in support of your defence, they will not be allowed in court until they give their evidence. The prosecutor is allowed to cross-examine defence witnesses after they have given their account.
This is an overview of the procedure in the Magistrates’ Court. It is slightly different if you do not have a solicitor.
The legal adviser asks you as the defendant to confirm your name, date of birth, address and nationality. They also read the charge to you and you enter your plea of guilty or not guilty.
The prosecutor opens the case by telling the court what it is about. They will explain the offence and give a summary of the law. The prosecutor is likely to say some things that you disagree with, but you should not interrupt them. They are putting their case at its strongest at that point. Your solicitor will get the opportunity to address those points later.
The prosecution begins calling its evidence. This is usually by asking witnesses to give evidence. Sometimes it can be written statements if you have agreed to them.
The defence can cross-examine any witnesses who are in court. They will often try to suggest witnesses are mistaken or lying about aspects that do not help the defence.
Only when the prosecution has called all of its evidence does it conclude its case. The defence case then begins.
The defence cannot usually make an opening speech so the case typically opens with you giving your evidence. There are exceptions, for example, if the defence intends to make a submission of ‘no case to answer’.
When you have given your evidence, you may face cross-examination from the prosecution. It is important to remain calm and answer the questions put to you.
After you have given your evidence, your solicitor will call any other defence witnesses. They will also go through the same cross-examination process.
When the defence has given its evidence, it will conclude its case.
The prosecution will make another closing speech.
The defence will make its closing speech. This is the point when a good solicitor will highlight the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and refer to any points made in the opening speech which were not proven.
The Magistrates or DJ may leave the room to make their decision. They will come back into court and say whether they find you guilty or not guilty.
If you are found not guilty, you may ask for a Defence Costs Order to get some of your legal fees back.
If you are found guilty, the court may proceed to sentence you or adjourn and do this on another date.
Criminal Court Trial FAQs
Can you represent me at a trial?
Yes, and we strongly advise you have representation for a trial.
It is important to have a specialist solicitor is because we know the law inside out. We can actually save you money by getting the right result. Appealing a conviction or sentence is usually more costly than representation at the original hearing.
There are also many rules concerning evidence and court procedure which must be adhered to. Some of these rules can be quite technical, and if you do not understand them, you are likely to make a mistake.
We have seen many unrepresented defendants try to present a trial on their own without success.
At the very least, we recommend that you seek advice on how to conduct your case in advance of the trial.
Does it look worse if I have a solicitor come to court with me?
No, it will not look worse. If anything, it should convince the court that you are taking the matter very seriously. It will not make you look guilty.
We have even represented other solicitors in court who do not have a background in criminal law.
Do I need a solicitor to attend court with me?
It is always advisable, but whether personal representation is essential will depend on a number of factors including the nature of the offence, whether you are pleading guilty or not guilty and the purpose of the court hearing.
Even for those who are used to public speaking, court can be a daunting place. Many people find that they are too nervous to express themselves as they would like. Others are unclear which points they should make to the court to improve the outcome.
Having an experienced solicitor like Lucy attend court with you can significantly reduce your stress levels. You will be safe in the knowledge that you have an experienced advocate speaking to the court on your behalf.
What happens if I don't give evidence at a trial?
Our court system is different from that in other countries such as the USA. If you do not give evidence the court can draw an inference about your guilt. This does not mean that they can convict you just because you do not give evidence. However, if you do not explain yourself in court it can be taken into account.
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