There are three kinds of court where you might
be called to give evidence.
- Magistrates’ court
- Crown Court
- Youth court
The person or organisation who writes to you telling you when
and where you will be needed as a witness will include details of
which kind of court the case will be heard in.
Most criminal cases that come to court are
tried in magistrates' courts.
Magistrates listen to all the evidence - including the
statements that you and any other witnesses give - and decide
whether the person accused of the crime (the defendant) is guilty
or not. If the defendant is found guilty or admits he or she is
guilty, the magistrates usually decide the sentence.
The magistrates may be three local people (sometimes called
justices of the peace or JPs), supported by a legally trained
advisor, or there may be just one magistrate (called a district
judge, who is a lawyer). No one in a magistrates' court wears the
white wigs often seen on judges or lawyers in films or on TV, and
only the ushers wear black gowns.
There will be a lawyer (or a team of lawyers) who speaks for the
prosecution. In most cases, another lawyer (or team of lawyers)
speaks for the defendant - who is also known as 'the accused'.
The picture shows a typical
magistrates’ court. The magistrates sit behind a raised
bench and the witness box is usually to one side near the front of
Trials before a judge and jury in the Crown Court are usually
only for very serious crimes, or where the
defendant has asked to have his/her case tried by a
jury. Magistrates may send a case to the Crown Court if
they feel they do not have the power to set a sentence as severe as
the crime deserves, if the defendant is found guilty.
After listening to all the evidence, the jury tells the judge
whether they find the defendant 'guilty' or 'not guilty'.
The judge decides on matters of law. If the defendant is found
guilty or admits he or she is guilty, the judge also
decides the sentence.
In court, there will be a lawyer (or a team of lawyers) who
speaks for the prosecution, and a different lawyer (or team) who
speaks or the defendant.
The picture shows a typical courtroom
of the Crown Court. Judges and some lawyers wear wigs and
gowns. The court clerk also wears a gown and, in some courts, a
wig, too. There is also an area for the jury to sit.
Most defendants under 18 are dealt with in the
youth court by specially trained magistrates or by a district
judge. There is no jury in these cases. Unlike the
adult magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court, which are usually
open to the public, the law restricts access to the youth court
- members and officers of the court;
- both sides involved in the case and their legal
- other people directly involved in the case; and
- members of the media and other people who the court has
authorised to be present. (The media may report the proceedings but
may not normally name any young people involved in the case.)
A child or young person will not be tried in a youth court if he
or she is charged:
- with murder or manslaughter (these cases always go to the Crown
Court for trial);
- with a very serious offence, such as robbery, and the youth
court considers the greater sentencing powers of the Crown Court
may be needed; or
- jointly with an adult (a person aged 18 or more) - these
cases are heard in the adult magistrates' court or the Crown
The picture shows a typical youth
court. The magistrates usually sit on the same level as
everyone else in the court.