Crown courts hear serious indictable offences such as robbery, rape and murder. A judge has overall responsibility for the court with a jury of twelve people providing the verdict. They also hear referrals for sentencing and appeals from lower courts.
There are approximately 90 Crown courts around England and Wales and they include the Central Criminal Court in the City of London, popularly known as the Old Bailey. Liverpool and Manchester Crown courts are anomalies. They were established in 1956 following recommendations that they would combat a rise in crime in these areas. These new courts took responsibility for the quarter sessions work as well as criminal assize work for south Lancashire. The assizes work for the west Derby area was assigned to Liverpool and the assizes work of Salford was assigned to Manchester.
Crown courts deals with serious criminal cases which include:
- Cases sent for trial by magistrates’ courts because the offences are ‘indictable only’ (i.e. those which can only be heard by the Crown Court) ‘Either way’ offences (which can be heard in a magistrates’ court but can also be sent to the Crown Court if the defendant chooses a jury trial)
- Defendants convicted in magistrates’ courts but sent to the Crown Court for sentencing due to the seriousness of the offence
- Appeals against decisions of magistrates’ courts.
There are three different types of Crown Court centre, based on the type of work they deal with. These are:
First-tier centres – visited by High Court Judges for Crown Court criminal and High Court Civil work
Second-tier centres – visited by High Court Judges for Crown Court criminal work only
Third-tier centres – not normally visited by High Court Judges and handle Crown Court criminal work only.
Offences tried in the Crown Court are divided into three classes of seriousness.
Class 1 offences are the most serious. They include treason and murder and are generally heard by a High Court Judge.
Class 2 offences include rape and are usually heard by a circuit judge, under the authority of the Presiding Judge.
Class 3 includes all other offences, such as kidnapping, burglary, grievous bodily harm and robbery, which are normally tried by a circuit judge or recorder.
All cases start in the magistrates’ court. With ‘indictable only’ offences the defendant will be sent to the Crown Court for trial.