It is crucial to seek legal advice as soon as practicable when you have been charged with an offence.
The charge sheet provided to you will confirm if your offence is a summary offence, as if this is the case, then your case will go through the summary stream in the Magistrates’ Court.
Your first Court appearance will be a mention, which is a hearing where the Magistrate will ask you how you intend to proceed with the case i.e. with a plea of guilty or a plea of not guilty.
If you decide to enter a plea of guilty, it is advisable you do this in the early stages as the Court may then impose a more lenient sentence. This means the Court may award you a sentencing ‘discount’, as opposed to a harsher penalty you may receive if you plead not guilty.
As such, if are pleading guilty to your offence and you told the Magistrate this in the mention, you will then enter into a plea hearing. It is strongly advised to have a legal representative present your plea to the Court as they will be familiar with the rules, requirements, and etiquette in front of the Magistrate.
It is strongly advised to have a legal representative act on your behalf as they will be familiar with the rules, requirements, and etiquette in front of the Magistrate.
If you plead not guilty in your first court appearance – the mention – then your case may be directed to a contest mention. A contest mention is a Court date where any issues in dispute, details of the contested hearing and any other practical issues are discussed. You may have an opportunity to charge your plea if the prosecution shows they have a strong case against you, and occasionally, some charges may be dropped in a contest mention if the prosecution agrees to such.
However, if the case still cannot be resolved in the contest mention, then you will proceed to a contested hearing.
The contested hearing will have you and the prosecution present your submissions, present witness evidence, dispute of any evidence relied on, and present character references and supporting information. This will all help you in proving your case to the Magistrate. The Magistrate will then decide if you are guilty or not guilty based on the information put before them.
If the Magistrate decides you are guilty, they will then impose sentencing.
Indictable offences are treated differently than summary offences as they are of a more serious nature. Indictable offences are dealt with in the indictable stream and may result in severe penalties and/or imprisonment. The process for indictable offences in the Court is similar to summary offending, with a few changes.
Similar to summary offences, persons who have been arrested for an indictable offence may be released on bail by the police. If this is not the case, a bail application may be made before the Court and the normal bail procedures will follow.
Regardless of whether you are granted bail or not, your first Court date will be a filing hearing. This is a hearing where the Magistrate will set a timetable for the case.
Full committal hearings are hearings where evidence is presented before a Magistrate in the Magistrates’ Court. This will be the last hearing before it goes to the County Court or Supreme Court. The Magistrate will hear all evidence and decide whether a properly instructed jury would convict the accused person. Essentially, the Magistrate will decide whether the case will continue and be heard in a higher Court before a jury.
If your case proceeds further, you will go to trial in the County Court or Supreme Court and your case will be heard in front of a jury. If you are convicted in this hearing, you will then be directed to a plea hearing and normal plea hearing procedures will apply.
The main purposes of sentencing as under the Sentencing Act 1991 are for punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, and protection of the community.
There are several options available to the Court when imposing a sentence for an offence. These options include:
You may appeal a decision to a higher court if you dispute a guilty verdict or you dispute the penalty imposed on you. A Notice of Appeal will need to be filed with the Magistrates’ Court within 28 days of the sentence to appeal the decision.
It is crucial to be aware that higher courts will apply their own sentencing discretion, and this means you may be subjected to an increase in sentence.