Most criminal cases are dealt with by either the magistrates court or the crown court.
In magistrates court you are normally seen by three magistrates, who sit together and decide the verdict. These can be lay magistrates, who are volunteers that are trained for this role, but do not have any legal qualifications.
For more complicated cases they use a district judge, who is legally trained.
Summary offences are only dealt with by the magistrates. This includes crimes such as road traffic offences. They can also deal with ‘either way’ offences, such as drug offences. ‘Either way’ means that it could be seen in either the magistrates or the crown court.
The maximum sentence that can be given here is 12 months for each crime, up to 65 weeks. The maximum fine that can be given is £5,000.
Crown court deals with the more serious cases. The trials are heard by a judge and a 12 person jury.
Although the judges rule on the law and impose sentences, it is the jury that decide whether the charge is proved.
This court has the power to issue the maximum fine or prison sentence.
This court investigates sudden, violent or unexplained deaths.
This is held in public, and can sometimes have a jury. The verdict from this court can sometimes lead to a criminal prosecution in crown court.
The coroner sometimes needs a witness, and relatives of the deceased can attend and ask any questions they would like answered.
Although I have learnt some of this during my law lessons in first year, it was great to refresh my knowledge in this lesson. Also, it covers in more detail how the courts work and who is involved in each.
A knowledge of law is essential if you want to be a journalist, as you need to understand what is going on during cases, as well as what you can and cannot report.