Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of choosing to be tried in crown court when charged with a triable either way offence.

Both the Magistrates' Court and the Crown Court deal with criminal matters.

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Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of choosing to be tried in Crown Court when charged with a triable either way offence.

 

Middle range offences, in terms of seriousness or harm, are known as offences which are triable either way and, as the term suggests, may be tried in either the Magistrates' Court or the Crown Court. Indictable offences are more serious crimes and are dealt with solely in the Crown Court after the defendant's initial appearance at the Magistrates Court. Summary offences, which are generally regarded to be less serious than indictable offences, are dealt with by the Magistrates' Court.

 

We need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of choosing to be tried in the Crown Court when charged with a triable either way offence. The discussion will need to take into account that the alternative venue would be for the trial to take place in the Magistrates' Court. Before we look at any considerations it is probably worth noting that in the Magistrates' Court the Magistrates themselves decide on the issue of guilt or innocence without the assistance of a jury. This means that the Crown Prosecution Service only have to persuade a District Judge or, in the case of a Lay Bench, two of the three Magistrates, of the defendant's guilt. In the Crown Court, a jury selected at random and made up of members of the public who have no connection with the case, decide the question of whether the defendant is convicted or acquitted. So in the Crown Court the Crown Prosecution Service has the more difficult task of persuading at least ten of the twelve jurors of the defendant's guilt. As we will see this has a large influence on the way in which trials are conducted as well as the outcomes.

 

With regard to the advantages of choosing to be tried in the Crown Court, there tends to be a lower conviction rate. This is thought to be due to the role of the jury who are probably, having little or no experience of legal matters, regarded as being less case hardened than a qualified and experienced judge or magistrate. The suggestion is that they may be more likely to accept the defendant's account of what happened. It is important to think carefully about the merits of any defence, as there is a higher conviction rate in the Magistrates' Court compared to the Crown Court. However conviction rates at the Crown Court have risen – overall 83% of defendants tried in 2011 were convicted. The conviction rate in the Magistrates' Court is more in the region of 90% .

 

The Magistrates' Court has lower sentencing options. This may be something which is important when choosing whether to be tried in the Crown Court when charged with an either way offence. It might be seen as a factor when choosing the venue and it is also important to bear in mind that someone can be sent on to the Crown Court for sentencing. If this happens higher penalties can be imposed. The Crown Court's sentencing powers on the other hand are not restricted apart from observing the sentencing guidelines and tariffs and of course any statutory requirements. The higher sentencing penalties are something that the accused needs to be aware of and they will need to balance these risks against the lower conviction rates in the Crown Court.

 

The threat of a custodial sentence and loss of liberty is always a real possibility especially if the offence is a serious one and this may explain why a defendant may find legal funding more readily available in the Crown Court than in the Magistrates' Court. This, together with more skilled and experienced advocates, may be important depending upon the nature of any defence and whether it involves technical arguments about the law for example.

Looking at the disadvantages there are fewer Crown Courts than Magistrates and they are usually restricted to the larger cities and urban areas. Magistrates' Courts are more numerous with many larger towns and cities having their own Magistrates' Courts which are generally regarded to be local courts. There are about 76 Crown Courts as opposed to some 330 Magistrates' courts in England and Wales. Accessibility may be an important element for the defendant depending upon such issues as his or her mobility and financial circumstances. More recently there have been debates over frequency of use of the Magistrates' Courts in some areas and some courts have been closed as a result of reviews by the Justice Secretary. A disadvantage of choosing to be tried in the Crown Court may be the additional practical problem of travelling to the nearest Crown Court as well as the cost incurred not only for the defendant but also for any friends and family wishing to attend as supporters.

 

Crown Courts are prone to attract media coverage due to the gravity of some of the cases dealt with. This may be something a defendant wishes to avoid. Magistrates' Courts attract less coverage generally. The Crown Court may be seen by many as more of an ordeal and can be traumatic making it more difficult for the defendant to put things behind them.


The case is likely to take longer before it is ready for trial in the Crown Court. The case would probably be ready and come to trial much sooner if it were to be tried locally before a Magistrates' Court. Pre-trial procedures in the Magistrates' Court are more straight forward as the length of the trial is shorter because there will be no jury. In the Crown Court pre-trial directions are likely to be more involved and this, combined with the lower number of Crown Courts, adds to the delay in coming to court and the length of time taken in getting the case ready for the trial.

 

So we can see that Crown Court trials do not just happen over night and there may be a delay before the case can be listed. If the person charged is refused bail because of concerns raised under the Bail Act, it may result in a defendant spending more time on remand awaiting trial than if they had elected to be tried locally before the Magistrates' Court. Time spent on remand is taken into account in the event that the individual is convicted and time spent on remand is not as strict a regime as for convicted prisoners but is a consideration when considering if it is advantageous to choose to be tried in the Crown Court.

 

It is worth mentioning that summary, either way offences and indictable only offences generally apply to adults, young people under 18 years of age are termed youths and as such are dealt with at a Youth Court. They will not normally be dealt with by the Crown Court unless their crime is considered serious enough.

 

Summary Offences

Indictable Offences

Criminal courts - GOV.UK

The Magistrates' Association

Judges, Tribunals and Magistrates | Going to court | Magistrates' Court

Crown Court

Youth courts

Your rights - Trial

Government 'considers cutting defendant rights to jury trial'

Because they fall into a range of less serious offences, some middle range offences can be tried in the Crown Court or the Magistrates' Court.

This decision is made at a Mode of Trial hearing when the magistrates will decide if the case can be heard in the Magistrates' Court. If they decide the case is too complex for the Magistrates court they will send it to the Crown Court and that will be the end of the matter. If on the other hand they decide that it can be heard by the magistrates the defendant will be consulted and if he has pleaded not guilty he can agree to be tried by the magistrates or ask for his case to be heard by the Crown Court and choose trial by jury. If there is a guilty plea the defendant will not be able to choose which court hears the case.

This essay looks at the advantages and disadvantages of choosing to be tried in the Crown Court when that choice can be made.

Some useful links are shown below and additional essays and items of interest are on the right hand side of the page.

 

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