What is the Crown Court?
The Crown Court – unlike the magistrates’ courts, it is a single entity – sits in 77 court centres across England and Wales.
It 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.
Circuit judges and recorders deal with Crown Court criminal work in all three types of centre.
Seriousness of offences
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.
A defendant in an ‘either way’ case who chooses to plead not guilty can request a jury trial, and will be sent to the Crown Court. Even if they don’t request a jury trial, magistrates can decide to send them for trial in the Crown Court if the offence is serious enough.
If the defendant pleads guilty to a serious ‘either-way’ offence, magistrates can commit them to the Crown Court for sentencing.
The Crown Court deals mainly with appeals against conviction and/or sentence in respect of criminal offences dealt with in the magistrates’ court, including orders such as disqualification from driving or Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. The Crown Court may dismiss or allow the appeal and vary all or any part of the sentence. Appeals are usually heard by a Circuit Judge sitting with no more than four magistrates (normally two).