B1.16.2 Criminal Courts


Criminal Courts deal with matters of Criminal Law. This is concerned with offences or crimes against the state. Remedies in Criminal Courts involve fines and imprisonment. Criminal Courts include:

  • The Crown Court.
  • The Magistrates’ Courts.


The Crown Court

The Crown sits in 77 locations in England and Wales and deals with more serious criminal cases transferred from the Magistrates’ Court such as:

  • Murder.
  • Rape.
  • Robbery.


It also hears appeals against decisions made in the Magistrates’ Courts and deals with cases sent from Magistrates’ Courts for sentence.

Trials are heard by a Judge and a 12 person jury. Members of the public are selected for jury service or may have to go to court as witnesses.

There is no limit on the fine that the Crown Court can impose.


The Magistrates’ Courts

The Magistrates’ Courts are a key part of the criminal justice system, as virtually all criminal cases start in a Magistrates’ Court and over 95% of cases are also completed here. In addition, Magistrates’ Courts deal with many civil cases, mostly family matters plus liquor licensing and betting and gaming work.

Cases in the Magistrates’ Courts are usually heard by panels of three Magistrates (Justices of the Peace), of which there are around 30 000 in England and Wales. The Magistrates are collectively called a Bench.

Magistrates are appointed by the Crown (retiring at the age of 70). They are not paid but may claim expenses and an allowance for loss of earnings. They come from all walks of life and do not usually have any legal qualifications. Qualified clerks advise them on the law. The Clerks are also unpaid; receiving a travel and subsistence allowance. They undergo a substantial amount of training supervised by the Judicial Studies Board.

In addition, there are also around 130 District Judges (formerly known as Stipendiary Magistrates). District judges in Magistrates’ Courts are required to have at least seven years experience as a Barrister or Solicitor and two years experience as a Deputy District Judge. They sit alone and deal with more complex or sensitive cases, such as serious fraud.

The Magistrate’s Court may impose fines and up to six months in prison. In cases triable either way (in either the magistrates’ court or the Crown Court) the offender may be committed by the magistrates to the Crown Court for sentencing if a more severe sentence is thought necessary.