For most people going to Court is something they have never experienced, nor do they ever wish to go through the process. For those who do find themselves appearing as a defendant at Court it can be a very daunting prospect. Below is a description of what to expect for a defendant pleading guilty to an offence of drink driving in the Magistrates’ Court.
A defendant will be asked to arrive 30 minutes before their listed hearing time, in the Magistrates’ Court there are two sittings each day. The first being the morning session which begins at 10:00am and then the afternoon session which begins at 2:00pm, upon arriving at Court a defendant should go through security and make their way to the Court lists. It is here where the defendant’s name will be and the Court they are appearing in will be confirmed. From here the defendant will make their way to said Court and speak to the usher. These are Court staff who essentially help to arrange the hearings for the Court, they can generally be spotted wearing a black gown and carrying a clipboard. If represented the solicitor or barrister will be outside the Court room waiting for the defendant and will invite them into one of the Court interview rooms to discuss the hearing and what is likely to happy upon entering Court.
Once fully briefed on the hearing and upon the usher’s say so a defendant will be asked to enter Court and stand in the dock. Present in the Court will be the defence solicitor or barrister, a prosecutor who is a representative of the Crown Prosecution Service, a Court Legal Advisor and either a District Judge or three Magistrates’. A District Judge is a solicitor or barrister who has been appointed as a District Judge whereas Lay Magistrates’ are members of the public who volunteer to sit in the Magistrates’ Court. The role of the Legal Advisor is to assist the Magistrates’ with any points of law or indeed any clerical assistance a District Judge may require.
At the beginning of the hearing the defendant will be asked to confirm their name, date of birth, address and plea once the charge is put to them by the Legal Advisor. The prosecution representative will then read a summary of the charge in the case of a guilty plea being entered. Following this the defence representative will put forward mitigation on behalf of the defendant, the aim being to persuade the Court to impose a more lenient sentence given the mitigating circumstances present.
The Magistrates’ or District Judge will then pass sentence and this comes into effect immediately.
A recap of who is who
A District Judge or DJ as they generally abbreviated to is a Judge that sits in the Magistrates’ Court and decides on matters before them. A DJ is a solicitor or barrister of at least seven years qualified experience who has been appointed to the position of District Judge. DJ’s generally preside over the most complex matters in the Magistrates’ Court as they are legally trained and qualified.
Lay Magistrates’ are members of the public that sit in the Magistrates’ Court as volunteers. They are no legally trained and preside over hearings in threes or on occasions twos. They are assisted by the Legal Advisor. There is a chairperson who will provide the Court with any decision reached by the Magistrates’ and be the predominant communicator.
The Legal Advisor is a solicitor or barrister who is employed by the Court and acts as an advisor to the Lay Magistrates’. It is not the role of a Legal Advisor to make decisions but rather to assist the Lay Magistrates’ in understanding and interpreting the law when formulating their own decisions on hearings and sentences.
The prosecutor acts on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service in the most part and is a solicitor or barrister. There are however over bodies that bring prosecutions such as police prosecutions or those brought by the local authority. The role of prosecutor is to put the case forward for their respective body in the hope of securing a conviction.
Anyone brought before the Court has the right to representation, either through government funding namely legal aid and the duty solicitor or they can chose to fund their representation privately. A defence advocate is there to advocate on the defendant’s behalf, be that during a trial or simply to mitigate on their behalf for a guilty plea. A defence advocate will again be a solicitor or barrister in the Magistrates’ Court.
The Usher is a member of the Court staff and is identifiable generally by the wearing of a long black gown and carrying a clip board. The Usher’s role is to work through the Court list with the help of the Legal Advisor and ensure that defendant’s are brought into Court and told where to sit. The Usher is not legally qualified and acts as the organiser in many respect’s of the Court’s diary that day.