When the police have completed their investigation and a suspect has been charged, the Crown Prosecution Service receives the case papers. The Code for Crown Prosecutors, issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions (the head of the CPS), describes a two-stage test that has to be applied to all cases. The prosecution will start if both tests are passed.
The evidential test: there must be sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each defendant on each charge. Magistrates must more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge. This includes consideration of whether the evidence can be used in court and is reliable.
The public interest test: this is whether prosecution is in the public interest. In cases of any seriousness, prosecution will usually take place unless the public interest factors tending against prosecution outweigh those in favour.
There are three types of cases coming to magistrates’ court:
- Summary offences – where the defendant is not entitled to trial by jury. These offences include motoring offences, minor assaults, threatening behavior and criminal damage where the value is less than £5,000. If the defendant pleads guilty, no witnesses are required and the case may be over quite quickly. Summary offences are dealt with by magistrates’ courts.
- Either-way offences – where the defendant can be tried either at the magistrates’ court or the Crown Court. Offences tried either-way include include theft, burglary, unauthorized taking of a motor vehicle, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, indecent assault and handling stolen goods. There is a ‘mode of trial’ hearing held at the magistrates’ court. During this hearing magistrates decide if they are suited to deal with the case. If not, the case will be sent to the Crown Court. The defendant may also wish to be tried at the Crown Court.
- Indictable-only offences – cases which must be head in Crown Court. These include murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, grievous bodily harm with intent, and kidnapping. During hearings in the Crown Courts, there is a jury of 12 men and women.
As well as the indictable-only and either-way offences mentioned above, the Crown Court also deals with:
- appeals from magistrates’ court
- sentencing referrals from magistrates’ court – when the magistrates believe that the offence requires a stronger punishment than they can impose.
Trial in a Magistrates’ Court
What happens to the cases magistrates deal with?
In cases heard by the magistrates, the court clerk asks the defendant whether they plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case is adjourned for about six to eight weeks for trial in the magistrates’ court. During this adjournment period, the Crown Prosecution Service prepares a case. This usually includes asking the victim and witnesses to come to court to give evidence. At the same time, the defendant together with their solicitor prepares the defence case.
The case will usually be heard by three magistrates who are lay people, i.e. they are not qualified lawyers. In certain courts there are stipendary magistrates or district judges, who are legally qualified and can sit alone. Where the defendant pleads not guilty, the magistrates decide whether they are guilty or innocent. If the defendant pleads guilty, or is found guilty, the magistrates also decide on sentence.
This is an outline of the procedure for cases dealt with by magistrates (there may be some slight variations from court to court, but the basic procedure is the same):
a) The court clerk asks the defendant for their name, address and date of birth.
b) Details of the offence are read out to the defendant.
c) The defendant is now asked again to say whether they plead guilty or not guilty.
On the occasion of a guilty plea, the procedure is as follows:
a) CPS reads out loud the facts of the offence(s).
b) Magistrates consider previous convictions and a Pre-sentence Report.
c) Magistrates retire and discus the sentence.
d) Magistrates come back and pronounce the sentence.
When the defendant pleads not guilty, the procedure is following:
a) The Crown Prosecutor makes an opening speech: reading the prosecution case out loud
b) Prosecution witnesses are called in to give evidence in examination-in-chief.
c) Witnesses are cross-examined by the defence.
d) Defence witnesses are called in to give evidence, they are also cross-examined by the Prosecution.
e) The defence solicitor makes a closing speech.
f) Magistrates retire and discuss the verdict: “We find you guilty/not guilty”.
g) Magistrates retire and discuss the sentence.
h) Magistrates pronounce the sentence.
Interpreter in court
Depending on the occasion and the assignment, you may be asked to interpret for the following parties:
- the defendant(s)
- the CPS: witnesses
- the expert witnesses
- provide on-sight or written translations
Interpreting in court: step by step guide
1. Arrive some time earlier to have enough time to report to the desk, sign in and find the courtroom.
2. Inform the usher and clerk that you are the official interpreter.
3. The defence may ask you to have a conference with the client.
4. On entering the courtroom, you will have to take the oath or affirm in the witness box.
The Interpreter’s Oath
“I swear by Allah/Almighty God, etc. that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to my best of my skill and understanding”
The Interpreter’s Affirmation
“I do solemnly declare that I will well and faithfully interpret and true explanation make of all such matters and things as shall be required of me according to my best of my skill and understanding”
5. Then, you will be asked to help in swearing in the witness.
The Witness Oath
“I swear by Almighty God/Allah etc. that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”
The Witness Affirmation
“I do solemnly and sincerely affirm that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”
6. You will be seating or standing next to the defendant or witness and interpreting everything what is being said in the courtroom.
7. After the trial is over, you have to be officially released by the court.