Describe how it is decided in which court a criminal trial will be heard. Include all categories of offence.

Parliament has categorised the various types of offences and according to the category a decision will be made regarding the venue for the trial to take place.

Grade: A-C | £0.00.

The two main criminal courts are the Magistrates' Court and the Crown Court. The process of deciding in which court a criminal trial will be heard is based upon the category of offence involved. There are different categories of offences and these categories reflect degrees of seriousness. The categories are – summary offences, indictable offences and either way offences. This categorisation is helpful for several reasons. Not only does it help us find out in which criminal court the matter will be dealt with but it also gives us some indication of the seriousness of the offence concerned. So it follows that the allocation process is based upon the seriousness of the offence in question.


Summary offences are minor or less serious offences and must be tried in the Magistrates' Court. Parliament has determined that this is the most appropriate venue for this type of offence. The trial is before a bench of Magistrates, usually consisting of three Magistrates, who determine liability and, if appropriate, the sentence. Examples of summary offences include driving offences such as driving without insurance, taking a vehicle without consent and common assault.


Triable either way offences are seen as middle range offences which may vary according to the scale of harm caused by the commission of the offence. Such offences can be tried in either the Magistrates' Court or the Crown Court and this is decided at a Mode of Trial hearing. Examples of triable either way offences include theft and assault causing actual bodily harm.


Indictable offences are more serious crimes. Parliament has determined that all indictable offences must be tried at the Crown Court. However, the first hearing or appearance is dealt with at the Magistrates' Court regardless of how serious the charge and even includes murder. Once the case has been committed for trial at the Crown Court all other pre-trial matters and the trial itself will be dealt with at the Crown Court. Examples of indictable offences include murder, manslaughter, rape and robbery.


Parliament has categorised criminal offences as detailed above. It can be seen that this means the nature of the charge determines which court will deal with any trial. This has the effect of speeding up the pre-trial process and simplifying matters. As a result, the Magistrates Court is determined as being the appropriate court to deal with the trial in many cases. This is not automatic in the case of either way offences and there are processes for deciding which court will hear any subsequent trial.


These processes are known as the plea before venue and mode of trial hearings. These hearings will take place at the Magistrates' Court. At the plea before venue stage, the charge is put to the defendant, and they are asked whether they plead guilty or not guilty to the offence. If the defendant pleads guilty there will be no need for a trial and the case will be dealt with by the Magistrates' Court.

The Magistrates do,however, have the option of sending the case to the Crown Court depending upon their view of the seriousness of the circumstances or harm suffered. Before deciding this issue the Magistrates will listen to representations by both parties. The Crown Court does have wider sentencing powers than the Magistrates' court and this may be a factor in deciding to send the trial to the Crown Court.


A mode of trial process needs to take place if the defendant pleads not guilty as this procedure will determine which court will hear the trial. It is for the Magistrates' themselves to first consider whether they will hear the matter in the Magistrates Court. To decide this they will hear an outline of the facts and may hear representations and observations from the prosecution and the defence. If they do not feel comfortable in dealing with the matter they will direct that the case be sent to the Crown Court for trial. All future pre-trial hearings will take place before a Crown Court trial judge appointed to deal with the case. It can be seen that the circumstances surrounding the charge and the presence of any aggravating factors can influence whether a matter is dealt with before the Magistrates or a Crown Court.


The defendant is only given a choice as to whether he or she would prefer the Magistrates' Court to hear the case after the Magistrates have made their ruling to accept jurisdiction. The Magistrates' court will take care that these processes are gone through properly and understood by the defendant as there are important differences in how the subsequent trials are dealt with. The court may, for example, wish to make sure that the defendant has access to legal assistance at this stage and may adjourn proceedings for this to happen. This is done if there is any concern about this aspect.


It is also important to remember that the allocation of cases according to category has an important effect on the volumes of work referred to the respective courts. In the case of the Magistrates' courts they deal with approximately 97% of all criminal cases and this in turn has a huge impact upon the criminal justice system in this country as a whole and was strongly felt at the time of the August riots in 2011 when the cases came to court.


Finally, it should not be forgotten that the Magistrates' court also has jurisdiction to hear the trials of charges against youths aged 10-17 in their Youth Courts. Youth Courts consist of specially trained panels who hear cases against young persons. It must also be remembered that children under the age of 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence.


There are some exceptional cases, involving youths, which must be sent to the Crown Court. These types of cases are likely to be rare. Examples include charges of murder, manslaughter, rape and causing death by dangerous driving. Parliament has also determined that persons aged 14 or over can face serious charges at Crown Court where, if it were an adult offender, the defendant would face a maximum custodial sentence of 14 years.


Youth Courts sit in private and follow procedures which reflect that they are dealing with particularly young people and this includes having at least one male and one female magistrate on the bench. Proceedings are also less formal.

Summary Offences; Indictable Offences; Either Way Offences; Plea Before Venue; 


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In this essay we look at the two main criminal courts and how a decision is made regarding which court will deal with the matter.  The different types of offences are looked at and examples are given. Plea before venue and mode of trial hearings are explained. The workload of the Magistrates' Court and the effect this has is discussed.  The role of Youth Courts is also covered.

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(Word Count 1057)



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