All cases start life in the magistrates’ court but not all cases are tried in the magistrates’ court.
Offences will be tried in the Crown Court if they are:
Indictable only, or
Triable either way and the mode of trial hearing in the magistrates’ court results in the decision that the case should be tried in the Crown Court.
In either of these situations, the case must therefore be moved from the magistrates’ court to the Crown Court.
There are FOUR ways in which a case can be moved to the Crown Court:
‘Sent’ under section 51 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (currently available for indictable only offences);
Notice of transfer; and
A voluntary bill of indictment.
Committal proceedings only relate to either way offences. If, following the mode of trial procedure, it has been decided that an either way offence should be heard in the Crown Court, the case will be adjourned for a committal hearing. These hearings take place at the magistrates’ court usually six weeks after the mode of trial hearing if the accused is on bail, four weeks if he is in custody. One of the purposes of committal proceedings is to filter out weak or ill-prepared cases, where there is insufficient evidence against a defendant to justify a trial.
Prosecution evidence has to be sufficient to show a prima facie case before the magistrates may commit a case to the Crown Court for trial. If there is not sufficient evidence the case will be discharged.
In every case, the CPS is under a duty to ensure that there is a ‘realistic prospect of conviction’ before commencing a prosecution. Section 5 of the Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out the two-stage test prosecutors must apply when deciding to prosecute an individual for a criminal offence, namely the evidential stage and the public interest stage.
Stage 1 of the test
Crown prosecutors must first be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a ‘realistic prospect of conviction’ against the defendant on each charge.
The stage of the test is objective. A prosecutor must also consider whether the evidence is admissible and is reliable, what the defence case may be, and how that is likely to affect the prosecution case.
Stage 2 of the test
If, and only if, the case passes the evidential stage a prosecutor must then consider the second stage, namely whether the prosecution is needed in the public interest.
There are two forms of committal proceedings, referred to as:
Committal under section 6(2) Magistrates’ Court Act 1980:
Does NOT involve consideration of the evidence against the accused;
The whole hearing takes a matter of minutes;
Will be held if the defence accepts that there is a prima facie case to answer
(this is NOT the same as accepting guilt or that the evidence is correct);
Is the most common form of committal.
Initially a case will automatically be listed for a s.6(2) committal.
Committal under section 6(1) Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980:
Involves consideration of the evidence against the accused;
Will be held if the defence wishes to make a submission that there is no prima facie case made out on the papers.
For more information on:
- S. 51 of the Crime and Disorder Act (CDA) 1998
- Section 51 states:
- Notice of transfer
- A Bill of Voluntary Indictment
- Moving to Trial