UK Criminal Law – Through the Stages

by MJP solicitors on November 26, 2012

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Going through a criminal case can be a very stressful and worrying time, especially if it is your first time. We hope that knowing what to expect will help you through the stages of criminal investigation / prosecution.

At the Police Station

If you are suspected of committing a criminal offence you may be either arrested or invited for an interview under caution at a police station. What happens at the police station can often to vital to future proceedings and therefore you should be representation from a specialist criminal law firm such as MJP solicitors. In the UK you are entitled to free legal advice from a solicitor – do not answer any questions until you have a solicitor present.

The solicitor representing you will be given information about the allegations, without the client present – this is called disclosure. They will then discuss with you the information they have received and offer advice on how to proceed with the interview. This conversation is confidential.

Once you have spoken to the solicitor you will then be interviewed. The interview is recorded and you will be cautioned.

Once the interview is over you may be charged, bailed to a later date, summonsed or no further action will be taken. Depending on your outcome the solicitor will talk you through the next stages of the investigation, if there are any.

At the Magistrates’ Court

There are two types of offences which can be tried at the Magistrates’ Court; Summary Only and Either Way offences.

Summary only offences are typically minor offences, such as motoring offences. Either way offences are generally more serious offences, such as burglary, and can also be dealt with in the Crown Court.

Depending on your financial circumstances you may entitled to legal aid which means you can be represented for free.

What happens at the first appearance depends on the offence, this is something your solicitor will offer advice on. If the offence is serious it may be committed to the Crown Court. The court may adjourn the case to a later date so that you can prepare a defence, or the prosecution can prepare their evidence. For less serious offences the matter maybe dealt with on the day but, of course, it all depends if you wish to plead guilty or not guilty.

If you plead guilty you are entitled to a third of the sentence – this applies to fines, community orders and sentences of imprisonment.

If you plead not guilty your trial can take place within the Magistrates’ Court (at a later date). A trial here is slightly different to a Crown Court trial as there is no jury. The prosecution put forward their evidence to the judge followed by the defence putting forward their argument on your behalf, this may include the use of witnesses.

After all the evidence is given the judge, or judges, will then retire to consider their verdict.

At the Crown Court

The Crown Court can be considered as the next step up from the Magistrates’ Court.

If you have elected to go to trial the case will take place before 12 members of the jury. In short the prosecution will put forward their evidence to the jury, followed by your barrister putting forward your defence to them.

The judge will then summarise the arguments put forward for the jury and then the jury leave the court to discuss the evidence and come to a decision. If the jury can not unanimously decide on a verdict (they all agree the same) and a period of time has passed then a majority verdict will be accepted.

If you are found guilty, or have pleaded guilty, your barrister will mitigate on your behalf putting forward your circumstances to get the best possible sentence.

About the author: MJP solicitors are a criminal defence practice based in the UK who defending clients against allegations of criminal offences.

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