Criminal Justice System of Great Britain

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Corinna V. Lyle -   090238190                             Criminal Justice   - Assignment 1

The Role of the Trial

The role of the judicial system is to protect the innocent, to pass judgement and to serve an appropriate form of punishment on convicted felons. This may include receiving a custodial sentence, serving a specified amount of community service or incurring a disqualification or penalty fine.  All criminal cases in the UK initially commence in the same system. However the severity and details of the offence will affect the following: which court the accused may be trialled and sentenced in, the criminal proceedings and the level of punishment received. This essay will examine the differing categories of offence and describe the role of the trial to provide a basic overview of the Crown and Magistrates court systems of Great Britain.  

The criminal court system has two rankings. The lower is the Magistrates’ Court and the higher ranking is the Crown Court. The Youth Court established in 1992 is a separate less formal division of the Magistrates’ Court. It was set up for the trial and punishment of minors aged between ten and seventeen years old. Young offenders too young to be trialled as adults (unless they are being tried alongside an adult) and old enough to know right from wrong are forced to face the consequences of their actions. The youth justice system can impose sentences up to 24 months detention in a young offenders unit or a fixed amount of community service (Youth Justice Board Website, 2010)


Three types of criminal offence are trialled between these two systems. They are Summary, Either-way or Indictable offences. The level of severity of an offence will dictate which category it belongs to. Many of the cases that commence at the Magistrates Court will also come to term there; however a proportion of cases that are deemed most serious in nature and require a custodial sentence will proceed to the Crown Court system.

The Magistrates’ Court deals with both criminal and civil cases. The court comprises a panel of either three ‘Lay Magistrates’ with the assistance of a ‘Justice Clerk’ or one ‘District Judge’. Lay magistrates are volunteers’ representative of their local community.  They work part-time and may also have an un-associated profession. They are not required to hold a legal qualification and receive substantial training before they undertake their duties. Their role along with the justice clerk (who is available in an advisory capacity) is to supervise most (95%) cases conducted at the Magistrates’ Court.  The justice clerk is legally qualified and will have a minimum of five years prior legal experience. (Gibson et al, 2002) Their role is to oversee proceedings to ensure they are conducted effectively and where necessary advise the lay magistrates on the legalities regarding a particular case. District judges serve alone in court and sit in place of lay magistrates. They are legally qualified, work fulltime and are paid a salary. They must hold no less than seven years relevant experience and are charged with handling the minority of the cases heard at the Magistrates’ Court. These usually include the least serious offences or those which are long, complex or regarded as sensitive in nature. The maximum penalty that the magistracy can pass is a term of 6 months imprisonment for individual offences or a fine up to £5000.                                   (Criminal Justice System Website, 2010)

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Summary offences are tried at the Magistrates’ Court. They are least severe in nature and include minor misdemeanours such as anti social behaviour, assault, disorderly conduct and criminal trespass to name a few. Either-way cases begin at the Magistrates’ Court and are subjected to a pre ‘Mode of trial’ hearing to determine the seriousness of the offence and to allow the defendant, to exercise his right to request to be trialled by Judge and Jury. The result will decide which of the two courts will try the case. Crimes of this category may include drug offences, dangerous driving and ...

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