English and Welsh Court System’s – The Basic’s

The courts are a constant source of content for any reporter.

It is really important to understand not only the differences between Magistrates Court and Crown Court, but also  the judicial process and what can and cant be reported.

The English Court System

  • There are two main types of court – Magistrates Court & Crown Court
  • In England and Wales most criminal (both adult and youth) are presented to the Magistrates Court
  • More serious cases are dealt with in Crown Court

Magistrates Court

Within the Magistrates Court there are two distinct ways of working.

1, Three Magistrates sit together at the bench. They are volunteers and know as ‘lay’ magistrates, and are trained for the role but have no legal qualifications

2, A District Judge will deal with more complex cases, and is someone who is legally trained

There is a Court Legal Advisor

Cases Types

  • If someone is charged with a serious offence, they will either be bailed (allowed to leave, usually with a cash sum to be paid and conditions attached) or remanded in custody (taken to prison where they will remain until trial, this ‘time served’ is usually deducted from any custodial sentence passed). The case is the transferred to Crown Court from Magistrates.
  • ‘Summary Offences’ – This kind of offence can only be tried by a  Magistrates Court. This includes: minor theft, minor public offences and most motoring offences
  • ‘Either Way Offences’ – This kind of offence is more serious and can be dealt with by either Magistrates or Crown Courts and includes: Drug offences, burglary and handling of stolen goods


Sentencing in Magistrates Court has limits to what can be given.

Imprisonment is capped at 12 months per offence to a maximum of 65 weeks

Fines – Generally speaking the maximum fine is £5000 per offence


Crown Court

The types of crimes that are tried in Crown Court are Murder, Rape and Robbery.

Trials are overseen by a Judge who rules on the law and imposes sentences.

A Jury made up of 12 members of the public who have been chosen at random, it is their job to decide whether on the evidence provided the charge is proven.


A Judge has the power to issue the maximum fine or prison set out for any offence


Coroners Court 

This court can’t determine innocence or guilt


Civil Court 

County Court

Most cases are heard in this court, with the exception of the most complicated of cases.

Includes breach of contract, housing issues, debt repayments, and enforcement of CCJ’s

High Court 

Hears appeals from County Court, and provide first hearings for the most complex of cases.

The court is divided into 3 sections

The Chancery deals with commercial law, business disputes, commercial law and bankruptcy.

The Family Court deals with matrimonial matters, adoption, child custody, separation and uncontested probate

The Queens Bench hears the most complex of cases which range from shipping to tech