Making an appearance in court

How is a person called to court

A person can be called to court in two different ways, either by a summons, or as a result of an arrest, without a search warrant, which leads to a charge and therefore a court hearing. 

Today, a summons by the Magistrates court is not the usual and most common way of someone appearing in court. The main use of a summons by the Magistrates is to find someone who has previously been granted bail for an offence and has consequently failed to appear in court.

Being summoned to court

This is most commonly used in situations involving breach of bail conditions. In order for the Magistrates to serve a summons, the prosecutor must provide, usually in writing, a detail account of the offence that has been committed and submit it to the Magistrates court, or the court clerk.  

The police can apply for such a summons verbally if they take an oath in front of the Magistrates court. This will happen if the reason for the application is to gain an arrest warrant.

Serving a summons

If a court summons is granted by the court it must then be served to the person ordered to attend court. The summons can be served either in person, such as a hand delivery, or if the offence is a minor offence t summons may be issued through recorded delivery or registered post.  

The defendant has the option to plead guilty to a summary offence via post providing the maximum penalty for the offence does not exceed 3 months imprisonment. If the defendant chooses to plead guilty by post, then they do not need to attend court and the matter will be dealt with in their absence. This is most commonly used in traffic offences.

Classifications of an offence

There are three different categories defining criminal offences. These include summary offences, indictable offences and either way offences.

Summary offences

These are the most minor crimes and are most commonly dealt with at Magistrates court. They are labelled ‘summary’ offences as the process will involve the person being summoned to court, usually be a written posted document.

Indictable offences

These are the more serious offences, such as rape or murder. These types of cases are most commonly heard in Crown Court. The indictment is a formal document that will contain all the particulars of the offence including the detailed facts that support any accusation.

Either way offences

This category can include any offence that may be tried at Magistrates court or at Crown Court. The types of crimes may include property offences such as theft or burglary.

The style of the trial

If a person is being trialled for an offence of this category, they can insist on a trial by Jury. If the defendant does not insist, the Magistrates court will decide on the next step. The Magistrates court will decide whether they have sufficient sentencing powers to deal with the severity of the crime.

Sending for a trial

This type of hearing was introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Under this act, every adult that has been charged with an indictable offence has to attend Magistrates court once. In this appearance the courts will discuss potential bail, legal funding and any discrepancies regarding evidence or witnesses.  

Once these issues have been cleared up, the Magistrates court will present the defendant with a statement containing the evidence against them, the details of the offence they have been accused of and the date and place where the trial is to take place.

Plea and case management hearings

The new plea and case management hearings were introduced by the Criminal procedure rules of 2005. This type of trial is usually conducted in an open court with the defendants present in order to give their plea in person. This process is called an ‘arraignment’. 

If the defendant enters a guilty plea then the judge will proceed to sentencing at the next possible opportunity. 

If the defendant enters a not guilty plea, both the prosecution and defence councils will have to gather all the evidence they need to carry out a full trial. They will need to organise any witnesses, expert evidence and documentation such as medical reports where necessary.  

What is a Disclosure?

The concept of a disclosure concerns the responsibility of the prosecution and the defence to disclose of any information they may have relating to the trial before the actual trail is heard. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced that the defence team has to disclose of all the evidence they intend on using in court to the prosecution counsel. This will also include detailed information about witnesses and any experts they intend in calling to give evidence or have compiled reports for the purpose of the trial.

Plea bargaining

Plea bargaining defines the negotiations that are carried out between defence and prosecution lawyers regarding the outcome of a case. This may involve a situation where the prosecution reduce the charge they pursue if the defence guarantee a guilty plea. For plea bargaining to be an effective resource, there must be the cooperation of the trial judge.

The Trial

The burden of proof lies with the prosecution, basically meaning that they have the obligation of proving beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime they have been charged with.  

The trial will begin with the prosecution outlining the case against the defendant proving their case with supporting evidence. Witnesses will be called to answer questions.  These witnesses can then be cross examined by the defence. Once the prosecution make their case, the defence will have the opportunity to prove there is no case to answer to.