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Criminal Courts and the Principles of the English Legal System



A section of the Magistrates Association site dedicated to younger researchers. Information and some fun things to do.


A comprehensive site about all aspects of the Criminal Justice system.


A section of the Criminal Justice On-line site which allows you to take a virtual tour through being a witness at Magistrates Court .


The Court Service site, with more information about the day to day workings of the courts.


A BBC ‘essential guide' site with good information about all the various people involved in the criminal justice system.


The Crown Prosecution Service site, with information about their history and their role.


The Department for Constitutional Affairs, details of the appointment and training of magistrates.


A History of the English Legal System


Comprehensive details on all aspects of the English legal system


Further guidance on the English legal system.


A complex chart showing how the courts fit into the overall criminal justice system


A flow chart showing the decision process regarding the trial of summary and hybrid offences



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The result if the case is not “proven beyond reasonable doubt”. Often referred to as “not guilty”.


All offences for which a defendant appears before a court are “alleged” until they are proved beyond reasonable doubt.


Release from custody with an agreement to attend court on a fixed date.


Barristers are trained lawyers who present the case for the prosecution or defence mainly in the Crown Court or Higher Courts, although they will very occasionally appear in a Magistrates' Court. There are two ranks of Barrister the Queens Counsel (QC) who are the more senior and experienced barristers and who will normally take on the more complicated cases. A barrister must have at least ten years experience as a barrister before becoming a QC. The second rank are called ‘Juniors' and will deal with the less complicated cases or will help the QC's in court.

Chancery Division

The Division of the High Court that deals with Civil law issues such as Equity, Probate, bankruptcy and companies law.


When details of an alleged offence(s) is read to the defendant, normally at a Police Station, and he is given the opportunity to reply. This will normally lead to a court appearance.

Circuit Judge

A type of Crown Court Judge with at least 7 yrs experience as a Barrister of Solicitor.

Civil Division

Part of the Court of Appeal and responsible for hearing appeals from the High Court, County Courts and Tribunals.


The procedure whereby Magistrates can send a defendant to Crown Court for trial.


A defendant who is awaiting trail at Crown Court.


A list of offences for which the person concerned has previously been found guilty in a court of law.

Court Clerk

In the Magistrate's Court the Clerk of the Court is a qualified solicitor who is on hand to assist the Magistrates with points of law and procedure and is responsible for arranging which cases come to court on which days.

In the Crown Court the Clerk has a slightly different role than in the Magistrates Court as they are not required to provide legal advice to the Judge. They look after the general administration of the trial process, such as assisting with the swearing in of the Jury, the presentation of exhibits and the general discipline and security of the courtroom.

Court of Appeal

Is divided into the Criminal and Civil Divisions and hears appeals from the lower courts.

Criminal Division

Part of the Court of appeal and responsible for hearing appeals from the Crown Court.

Criminal Record

Similar to Convictions but will also include details of sentences passed, such as fines, imprisonment, community orders etc.


Further questioning of a witness by the defence or prosecution solicitor after they have given their initial evidence to the side that called them as a witness ie. the prosecution or defence.

Crown Prosecution Service

The organisation responsible for undertaking the prosecution of most cases that appear before the courts and deciding whether or not the case should go to court.


Imprisonment prior to conviction. Often in a Police Station or remand centre.


The evidence presented by a defendant or his representative to disprove the alleged offence. Can also refer to the team of solicitors and barristers who represent the defendant.


The person accused of committing an offence(s).


Has the same meaning as “Custody” (see above)


A disturbance or something that upsets the order of society. Often related to the unruly behaviour of individuals, who if drunk commit the offence of being Drunk & Disorderly.

District Judge

The new name for a Stipendiary Magistrate. A person qualified in law who can judge minor cases on their own.


Information placed before a court in order to assist in deciding whether or not the defendant(s) have committed the alleged offence(s).

Family Division

Part of the High Court dealing with appeals from Crown Court and Magistrates' Court on issues involving Children and Young persons. Also deals with Civil Matters re marriage and children.


Literally means “of courts of law”, but has come to be used in the phrase Forensic Evidence to mean items that have been recovered from the crime scene or elsewhere by the use of various scientific techniques, such as fingerprints, DNA, fibres etc.


The case against the defendant has been “proven beyond reasonable doubt”. The verdict is normally “case proven” when given by a magistrate but “guilty” when given by a Judge and Jury.


The normal term for a trial at a Magistrates' Court.

High Court

Divided into three Divisions, Queens Bench; Family and Chancery. Deals with many aspects of Civil law and appeals on ‘Points of law' from Crown Courts and Magistrates' Courts.

High Court Judge

The most experienced judges having held the position of Circuit Judge for at least 2 years before they are appointed. They may hear cases in any of the Courts from Crown Court upwards.

House of Lords

The Highest Court in the land and will hear appeals from both the Criminal and Civil Divisions of the Court of Appeal.

Hybrid Offences

Offences that can be tried at either the Magistrates' Court or the Crown Court, but with more serious punishments being awarded in the Crown Court.

Indictable offences

A type of crime that can only be tried at a Crown Court.


Proven honesty.

Judicial duties

The role of judging cases alleged against a defendant.


The group name for all of the Magistrates and judges involved in the legal system.


Twelve people in a criminal trail and eight in a civil trial who are over 18 yrs of age and on the electoral register. Their job is to listen to the evidence and the advice from the Judge and deliver a verdict as to whether or not each alleged offence has been “proven beyond reasonable doubt”.


A group term for Magistrates (see below), a shortened version of Justices of the Peace.


Children and young persons under the age of 17yrs.

Lay Magistrate

A type of magistrate who is untrained in law, i.e. not a District Judge.


Also known a Justice of the Peace, they are responsible for hearing cases brought before the Magistrates Court . The can be either a Lay Magistrate or a District Judge (see above).


Why the crime took place and the defendants personal character and circumstances.

Not Guilty

When a case has not been “proven beyond reasonable doubt”. Often referred to as “case not proven” in magistrates courts.


A promise to tell the truth, which is given by a witness prior to giving their evidence. In the case of a Christian given with the right hand raised and the left hand resting on the Bible. Other regions use other holy books such as the Koran or have other rituals. Non-religious persons can make an “affirmation” which is a promise to tell the truth.


Persons who have committed a crime or offence.


A statement made at the start of a trial by the defendant as to their guilt. It can be either “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”.

Preliminary Hearing

An initial hearing often without witnesses to decide whether or not there is a case to answer and whether or not the matters should proceed to trial.


An order that can be issued by a court normally as an alternative to imprisonment, that requires the behaviour and lifestyle of a person convicted of a crime to supervised by the Probation Service for a stated period of time.


The process of bringing a defendant before a court and presenting evidence to prove that he has committed the alleged offences or crimes. It can also refer to the group of solicitors and barristers involved in the process.

Psychiatric report

A report on the mental condition of the defendant which can be called for by the court prior to passing sentence.


Happens once every three months.

Queens Bench Division

Part of the high Court responsible for hearing appeals on ‘ points of law' from Crown Courts and Magistrates' Courts and for dealing with Civil Law issues relating to Contract and Tort law, Commercial Law and Admiralty Law.


A Part-time Judge who is still a serving Barrister or Solicitor with at least 7 yrs. experience in either of those roles.


The stenographer makes a record of everything that is said during a trial, typed in a form of shorthand on a special machine,

Stipendiary Magistrate

The old term for a District Judge (see above).


A document sent to a defendant giving details of the offences or crimes it is alleged they have committed and the details of the time and place that they should attend Magistrates' court.


The process whereby evidence is presented before Magistrates or a Judge and Jury, in order that a decision can be made as to whether or not the Prosecution have proven the defendants' guilt beyond reasonable doubt.


The person whose role it is to make sure that all of the witnesses have attended court and to assist in the smooth running of the court proceedings as directed by the Court Clerk.


A person who is subjected to a crime committed by another person.


A person who has information that they can give to a court concerning the alleged offence or crime that is being tried.


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