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Welcome to The Crown Court

If you commit a serious crime in England or Wales, chances are that you will have to attend The Crown Court. In this article, we will look at what it does and why it is so important to the English Legal System.

Welcome to The Crown Court. Chances are that if you have seen any British TV programmes or films featuring lawyers wearing wigs and gowns that this is the court you were watching.

The Crown Court deals with criminal cases and has four main roles - hearing appeals from Magistrates Courts (which is the first court that any suspect will attend), sentencing offenders who have been committed from the Magistrates Court for sentencing (the Magistrates Court can only sentence people for up to six months in prison), trials of serious cases such as murder and sentencing of suspects from the Crown Court.

The Magistrates Court

All criminal cases start in The Magistrates Court. By the time you appear in front of the magsitartes, the police will have interviewed you and based on your interviews and the evidence gathered have asked the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to make a decision on whether there is enough evidence to arrest you. If they confirm that there is - having considered two questions (Is there a realistic chance of conviction? and Is it in the public interest to prosecute?) - then the police can charge you with a crime.

Once you have been charged, you may be bailed to appear at the Magistrates Court at a later date or if the crime is serious the police will hold you until you attend the Magistrates Court to determine the next steps.

Please note that bail is different in the UK compared to the US. In the US, you have to find the money to 'post bail' while in the UK the suspect will usually have to meet some conditions such as living at a particular address or not leaving home after 7pm.

If you have committed a serious crime, you will probably be remanded by the magistrates and be detained in prison until your trial at The Crown Court.

The Crown Court

The case will commence with the swearing-in of 12 jurors. If a juror has a link with any of the suspects or witnesses in a case then they will be excused from the case. Jurors are told that they cannot use social media or the internet for the duration of the trial and they cannot discuss the case with anybody. If they are caught doing so then they could be liable for contempt of court.

The prosecution will then deliver their opening speech explaining the facts of the case as they see them and the issues involved. After that, the defence will set out their version of the story.

The prosecution barrister then presents their case to the court. They can call witnesses and offer evidence for the witnesses to confirm or deny. This can be in the form of videos, photographs or objects. Defence lawyers have the opportunity to cross-examine or question the same witnesses and once that has been completed, prosecution lawyers can ask further questions to clear up any issues that may have arisen from the earlier cross-examination.

It is then the turn of the defence lawyers to call their own witnesses and present their own evidence to the court. The Defendant may also be questioned and cross-examined by the prosecution lawyers so it may be a tough decision whether to put that person on the stand.

Both sides will then give their closing arguments. The prosecution will reiterate why they believe the defendant committed the crime and what penalty they believe is justified. The defence will then argue why their client is not guility.

The Jury

After this has concluded, the judge will explain the law and the case to the jury and explain to them what they have to do next. The 12 members of the jury will then go to the jury room to discuss the case.

If all 12 members of the jury do not agree then the judge can accept a majority decision whereby at least 10 members of the jury agree on a verdict. If no verdict is possible then the jury is a hung jury and the trial ends. The CPS can then decide to go for a second trial or not.

If the jury has found the defendant guilty then the judge can impose a sentence immediately or at a later date pending any medical or psyhciatric reports. If the defendant has been found not guilty then they are free to go.

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