What do different courts do?

When you are having dealings with the courts for the first time, it can be confusing finding out which court does what. Having to attend court, perhaps after being charged with a motoring or criminal offence, is bound to be a stressful experience. A good way to prepare is to consult barristers in Ipswich, who can explain the court system to you before your first appearance.

Barrister Marcus Croskell frequently appears in different types of court, not only in Ipswich and Suffolk but across East Anglia and in other parts of the UK. Here we look at some of the main types of court you may come into contact with and the types of cases they hear.

Magistrates’ Courts: All criminal cases in the UK start with an initial appearances in a Magistrates’ Court, with most being heard there, either by a panel of magistrates or by a District Judge. However, the more serious cases go on to Crown Court for either trial or sentencing. Magistrates’ courts have limited sentencing powers, with the maximum prison sentence they can impose normally being six months.

Many types of charge are “summary” cases which have to be heard in a Magistrates’ Court with no option to go before a jury. Most types of driving offence fall into this category, as do less serious criminal damage cases and common assault cases. There are also some “either way” cases which can be heard at either a Magistrates’ or Crown Court, including thefts and burglaries, fraud charges and many drugs cases. Some civil cases are also heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

Crown Court: Crown Court operates with a judge and jury rather than a bench of magistrates, and hears more serious cases. ‘Indictable’ cases must go to Crown Court, including murder, manslaughter, rape and robbery.

Magistrates can decide to commit “either way” cases to Crown Court if it has potential punishments over a certain threshold. They can also hear a case but then send it to Crown Court for sentencing where they feel their powers will not be high enough. If you are pleading not guilty to an either way offence, you also have the option to choose a jury trial. This is an important decision and needs to be discussed in detail with your barrister.

Youth Court: Although Youth Courts sit within a Magistrates’ Court building, they are not so formal. Also, different terms are used to describe the various officials and processes. They deal with an age group from 10 to 16 and a wide range of different charges, including drugs and anti-social behaviour. Young people can be committed to Crown Court for trial in very serious cases.

County Court: Most civil disputes resulting in litigation are heard by the County Court. These include many different types of business dispute where you will need a lawyer with expert knowledge, including debt recovery. Disputes between landlords and tenants and injury compensation cases are also heard here. A judge presides over the hearing and usually hears it alone before giving judgement. Cases below a certain level normally operate on a “small claims” basis. Many civil disputes are settled via mediation or other means of Alternative Dispute Resolution without coming to court.

High Court: The High Court is based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, but some cases are heard at its district registries in other parts of the country. It deals with appeals against decisions in lower courts and also with more important civil cases. It has three main divisions, which are the Queen’s Bench, Chancery and Family Divisions. Cases are heard by judges, who often sit alone.

Many contract law cases go before the Queen’s Bench division, which also deals with injury compensation and negligence claims. Chancery deals with a wide range of cases involving business law and trusts, while the Family Division deals with matters such as divorce and child custody. There are some areas of overlap between the divisions and there are also various specialist courts which operate as part of the High Court, for instance the Admiralty Court which comes under the Queen’s Bench umbrella.

Cases heard in the High Court can go on to the Court of Appeal, which deals with both criminal and civil appeals in the UK, and then in some cases there can be a further appeal to the Supreme Court. At present, cases can go on to be referred to European courts, although this may change in the future.

If you are looking for barristers in Ipswich to represent you, Marcus Croskell has extensive experience of appearing in different types of court. These include both criminal and civil courts across East Anglia and in other parts of the country, as well as Manchester High Court and the High Court and Court of Appeal in London. He is also expert in Alternative Dispute Resolution outside the courts. You can either telephone for an initial free consultation on 0843 886 2603 or email.