I was off out to the Greater Manchester area, to the town of Stockport. The picture above is from Bing images, but it is of Stockport magistrates court. The room made me feel as if I were in a Star Wars spaceship. The white tiles walls, with barely anything else, was alien! I was also the only one in the public gallery, again. Someone has to keep an eye on the system.
Dubbed the wild west of the criminal justice system, the magistrates court is the first point of call for the majority of criminal cases. The more serious offences, called indictable offences like robbery, serious assault, rape or murder can only be heard by a crown court.
Dubbed the wild west of the criminal justice system, the magistrates court is the first point of call for the majority of criminal cases.
Let’s dig into the differences and similarities between the Magistrates and Crown court.
First, and most notable, is that the bench consists of 3 magistrates. In front is a clerk or legal advisor, they are the ones who are most likely to have legal education and training, as the magistrates are essentially ‘uneducated in law.’ Next we have both the defence and prosecution lawyers, they are on their own table in front of both the clerk and magistrates, facing the bench. Today, the defendant was to the right inside a glass shielded box, the place they have to stand during the hearing.
The jury box was also empty today, as the hearings I entered were pleading hearings – not sure if that’s the right name! Oh well! Behind the lawyers or prosecution and defence counsel sits the public, that is where I was sat, and a gold rail was between me and the rest of the court room.
Crown courts generally have the same sort of feel and layout, although, the bench will consist of an actual legal judge. Sometimes a magistrates will host a district judge, and today, surprisingly, the court had a crown court operating within its walls. Barristers represent and prosecute in the crown court, where they wear their court regalia of black cloak and white wigs.
The dress code in the crown court is to be admired, because when you look at the suits being worn in the magistrates court, they do not look as serious or impressive. The usher was the only one wearing a black cloak. I call it the Voldemort cloak as it reminds me of the sort of clothes he wore in Philosopher stone. I was advised to come back in the mornings and on trial day, so I am going to head back tomorrow morning to try and see some. I don’t think I’ll post about that though.
I saw 2 hearings, both relating to drink and drug driving. The first pleaded not guilty to drug driving and the second pleaded guilty to drink driving. I know from past experience that driving offences take up the majority of magistrates court cases. The defendant pleading not guilty will go onto a trial, where a jury will be present.
The defendant pleading guilty was to be sentenced straight away, although, in this hearing, defence cousel requested further assessments of the defendant’s mental health and similar, and therefore it was postponed or adjourned.
Check out the useful video below on the magistrates court :
Thanks for reading. Have you ever been in one of these court rooms?