A guide to prosecution and going to court
What is a prosecution?
A prosecution occurs if the State (or sometimes a private individual or body) makes a formal accusation against an individual that a criminal offence has been committed.
How does a prosecution start?
Either by a formal charge at a police station or where a summons to attend Court to answer an alleged criminal offence is issued on application. The Crown Prosecution Service will sometimes issue a document called a ‘postal requisition’ which is similar to a summons but it is not issued by the court.
What happens if I am charged or summonsed to go to Court?
You will be given a date to appear in a Magistrates Court.
What happens at Court?
What happens at Court on the first occasion that you attend is dictated by the category of offence for which you have been charged or summonsed. Offences fall into three categories:
- Summary offences which can only be heard in a Magistrates Court (ie there is no right to jury trial);
- Either-way offences which can be heard either in a Magistrates Court or in the Court depending on seriousness and/or choice;
- Indictable-only offences which can only be heard in a Crown Court.
Summary only offences:
The Magistrates Court will determine how you intend to plead and then either fix a hearing for a trial if contested or proceed to sentence if the offence is admitted.
The Magistrates Court will determine how you intend to plead and then move on to decide whether it can accept jurisdiction. If it accepts jurisdiction (ie it decides it can hear the case) you can choose whether to have a jury trial. If it declines jurisdiction your case is simply sent to the Crown Court for a Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing there.
Indictable only offences
Your case is simply sent to the Crown Court and you are given a date to appear for a Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing there.
What is a Summary Trial?
This is a trial which takes place at a Magistrates Court before a bench of lay magistrates (usually three) or a district judge. The prosecution will seek to persuade the court that the case is proven beyond a reasonable doubt by calling evidence and you are entitled to call evidence in your defence.
What is a Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing?
The first hearing that takes place after your case is sent to the Crown Court usually a month after you appear in the Magistrates Court. You are required to indicate how you intend to plead and the case is either adjourned for a trial and for sentence. It is rare for the Court to permit further time for you to decide how you intend to plead.
What is a Plea and a Case Management Hearing?
An important hearing before the Crown Court where you indicate how you intend to plead. If you plead guilty your case will be adjourned for sentence and you will get credit for saving court time and cost. If you plead not guilty then your case will be adjourned for a trial before a circuit judge and jury.
What is a jury trial?
It follows the same process as a summary trial but the verdict is decided upon by a jury of 12 people rather than a judge or magistrates. The judge will sum the case up to the jury and help them with important issues of law to make their decision. They will be asked to reach a unanimous verdict but if they are unable to do so after a certain period of time (which varies from case to case) they will be asked to reach a majority verdict (at least ten agree).
What if I am found not guilty?
You have been formally acquitted and you are free to leave without any consequences.
What if I am found guilty?
The judge will decide which sentence to impose and there could be confiscation proceedings.
What are Confiscation Proceedings?
A procedure whereby the Court can order that you repay the benefit from criminal offending.