What happens at your first magistrates court appearance?
Hopefully, you arrive at the right court, at the right time and smartly dressed, ideally with a solicitor like me to meet you there.
Get through security, find out which courtroom your case is listed in, and book in with the court usher.
You should already be fully prepared for the case; you should know the charge and you should know what happened from your point of view. If you have a solicitor, I would hope that all the key issues have been discussed in the days and weeks before the first court hearing, but there is always time on the day to speak to your solicitor in private before going into the courtroom.
Once in court you will be expected to give your name, address and date of birth, and then you will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty.
If you plead not guilty and the case is staying in the magistrates court a trial preparation hearing will take place. You will be asked to confirm what your defence is, confirm what prosecution evidence you dispute, and confirm which prosecution and defence witnesses you want to attend at the trial.
The trial will take place on a different date, so you will need to come back with your witnesses. The court will then consider if there should be any bail conditions imposed on you until the trial date. You can voice your opinions regarding the proposed bail conditions, especially if they will restrict your liberty and ability to carry on your normal life.
If you plead guilty you can be sentenced there and then, so be prepared to put forward any explanation and mitigation. If the case is serious then your case may be put back until later in the day for a probation officer to speak to you about the possibility of a community order or prison sentence. You will then return to the courtroom to be sentenced. If the probation officer cannot see you on the same day, your case might be adjourned to another date for your case to be concluded.
If the charges are serious your case can be sent to the crown court for trial or sentencing. This depends on the likely sentence that would be imposed. In general terms, the magistrates court will usually send cases to the crown court if a prison sentence of over 1 year is likely, although this will vary depending on your age, and the number and type or offences.
You can do all of this yourself; you do not have to use a solicitor.
However, like when I try and do my own plumbing, it may not end well. If you can afford it then get a private solicitor like me to attend with you.
A private solicitor like me will:
1. Be at court with you throughout.
2. Consider the prosecution evidence and your account and defence evidence, advise you on the law and make sure you enter the right plea.
3. Fill out all the forms required by the court.
4. Speak to the prosecutor and to the judge on your behalf.
5. Do all the talking for you in court.
6. Do everything possible to get you out of court with the minimum amount of fuss and with the right result.
If you can’t afford a solicitor you can try and apply for legal aid, or you can ask to see the duty solicitor. Legal aid is means tested so you may not be eligible. The duty solicitor can only help if the case is serious enough to attract a custodial sentence. Both options (if available to you) are better than nothing, but the service you receive can be limited due to the low fees paid to legal aid and duty solicitors.
Always keep in mind that that it is your case, get the best legal advice and representation you can afford, and remember that good early preparation is the key to getting the best result.