Being a court of mainly criminal jurisdiction, with some limited civil jurisdiction, established in England and Wales following the Courts Act 1971 that abolished the traditional Courts of Assize and Courts of Quarter Sessions.

Crown Court Administration

The Crown Court is presided over by a number of High Court judges, full-time circuit judges and part-time recorders and assistant recorders sitting with, if necessary, a jury. England and Wales is divided into six circuits for the purpose of hearing criminal cases, that is;

  • Midland and Oxford
  • North-Eastern
  • Northern
  • South-Eastern
  • Wales and Chester
  • Western
Each circuit is further divided into areas containing one or more of around ninety centres where the court actually sits. Each of these centres is designated as being first, second or third tier. Although most Crown Court cases are simply heard at whatever centre is most convenient to the magistrates’ court which committed the case for trial, some types of offence are directed to certain court tiers, so that for example, murder or rape will normally be directed to a first tier centre. The top Crown Court is of course the Old Bailey, located in London.

The Crown Court tries the most serious offences and "either way" offences referred to it by magistrates, the largest element of its workload consists of cases received from the Magistrates' Court as committals for trial. The Crown Court also hears appeals from the Magistrates' Court.

Crown Court Procedure

A: Pre-trial

There is normally a Plea and Directions Hearing where the charge or indictment is read out and the defendent is asked if they plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendent pleads not guilty then the matter proceeds to trial before a jury. If the plea is guilty, then the judge can proceed straight to sentencing without the rigmarole of a trial.

B: The trial

Crown Court trials are conducted before a presiding judge and a jury of twelve people selected at random from the electoral register. The trial procedure is as follows;

  1. The selection and swearing in of the jury
  2. The case for the prosecution - The prosecution open first and present their evidence and witnesses; the defence may cross-examine and challenge the prosecution evidence.
  3. The case for the defence - The defence present their case and evidence; the prosecution now have their chance to challenge and cross-examine.
  4. Closing speeches - The prosecution, followed by the defence then make a closing speech, summarising their respective cases.
  5. Summing up - The presiding judge then sums up the evidence for the jury and provides any necessary directions on matters of law.
  6. The verdict - The members of the jury then retire to consider their verdict. Once they've reached a decision on which they all agree (or, after a certain period of deliberation if they cant't all agree, a verdict on which at least ten jurors agree), they return to court and give their verdict.
  7. Sentencing - If the verdict is one of guilty, then the judge passes sentence, which may be immediate or, after an adjournment, delivered at a later hearing after he or she has had the opportunity to consider the contents of pre-sentence reports into the offender's background, health, mental capacity or social circumstances. If the verdict is not guilty, then the defendant is discharged and is free to go.

According to statistics given in Hansard on 2nd April 1992 around 70% of defendents plead guilty and of the 30% who plead not guilty the chances of conviction seem to be around 50:50.

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