Going to court

So you've been arrested and charged but what do you do if your case ends up going to court?


It's natural to be a little scared

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the Government Department that advises the police on possible prosecutions for criminal offences. Created by the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, the CPS reviews cases started by the police to ensure that the right defendants are prosecuted on the right charges and then prepares the cases for court.

How long will this decision take?

If you are charged with a less serious offence, which would normally just be heard in a magistrates’ court, you should know within six months whether you are to be prosecuted.

If charged, you will get a written summons from the court. This will be posted to you or handed to you personally. The summons tells you what offences you have been charged with and gives the day and time that you have to be at court and the address of the court building.

What do I do when at court?

It is advisable to get to court half an hour before the time you have been given. When you arrive, tell the usher that you are there. Usually they wear a black gown and have a clipboard telling them who they should expect. If you do not have a solicitor, ask to see the ‘Duty Solicitor’. You may qualify for free legal advice.

If you want to make good impression in court:

  • Dress smartly.
  • Keep your hands by your side, not in your pockets.
  • Don’t chew gum.
  • When you are speaking to the Magistrates, address them as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.

Also remember to:

  • Ask if you don’t understand, it can be explained to you.
  • Request an interpreter if you feel that yourself or your parent/guardian does not speak or understand English well enough.
  • If you need more time to talk to your solicitor, ask to have the case put off for a while.

Legal Aid refers to help with the cost of legal advice and representation in court. As soon as you receive a summons you should try to sort out legal aid, as it will usually meet the cost of your first interview with a solicitor if nothing else. If you have a job, you may have to make a contribution towards the cost.

You can check if you’re eligible for legal aid here.

Which type of court will I go to?

Youth court

  • Age: 17 and under. If you are under 16, a parent, guardian or social worker must attend the court. In the case of 16 or 17 year olds, parents may be ordered to attend.
  • Format: Part of the magistrates court, it is made up of at least two magistrates (sometimes known as a Justice of the Peace or JP) trained in youth justice issues.. At least one of the magistrates should be a man, and one a woman.
  • Press: Members of the public are not allowed to enter a youth court while the case is in progress. Newspapers can not reveal the name or identity of the accused.

Magistrates’ court

  • Age: Adult
  • Format: Three magistrates sit in the court. They will reach a verdict themselves on all cases involving less serious offences, while they will send more serious cases to the Crown court for trial-by-jury.
  • Types of case heard: criminal law, family law, licensing law and other less common cases.

Crown Court

  • Age: Adults, however youth cases may be seen here for very serious charges, or where more than one are accused and some of these are adults.
  • Format: Jury decide guilt, Judge decides charge.

Photo of gavel by Shutterstock

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015