The High Court, The Crown Court & Magistrates Court

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Criminal trials in England and Wales take place at two levels. The most serious offences, such as murder, rape, and arson must be tried in the Crown Court, a unitary court, which is part of the Supreme Court and is a superior court of record. Trials in the Crown Court are presided over by a judge, who may be a High Court judge, a circuit judge, a recorder, or an assistant recorder.


All offences which can be tried in the Crown Court are known as indictable offences. The most serious indictable offences which must be tried in the Crown Court are known as indictable-only offences. There are other indictable offences, such as theft, which can, but need not, be tried in the Crown Court. These are known as either-way offences. Below the Crown Court, at the lowest rung of the criminal court hierarchy, are the inferior magistrates' courts. Proceedings in magistrates' courts are presided over either by a bench of lay justices of the peace, who sit with a legally qualified clerk, or by a legally qualified stipendiary magistrate. Magistrates' courts try the either-way offences which are not tried in the Crown Court and also summary offences. These are crimes created by statute which must be tried by a magistrates' court. An either-way offence cannot be tried in a magistrates' court unless the accused assents to this and a magistrates' court agrees that the summary procedure is appropriate. If the accused does not consent or the magistrates' court vetoes a summary trial the offence must be tried on indictment in the Crown Court regardless of whether the accused intends to plead guilty or not guilty. The only effect of a guilty plea is to make it unnecessary to empanel a jury in the Crown Court. ...
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