Deprecated: Function session_register() is deprecated in /home/sites/ on line 88 Criminal Law
 Current Threat Level in the UK SEVERE  Issued by

Forum Links

News Archive

Criminal Law

In most cases the criminal law recognises a particular intention or state of mind as a necessary part of a criminal offence (there are some cases of "strict liability" where this is not necessary). However ignorance of the law on the part of an accused person is never accepted as an excuse. The law punishes not only criminal acts, but also - as incitements, attempts or conspiracies - steps towards the commission of a crime which may never take place. People may be exempted from criminal liability because they have been deprived of their free will and self-control - by coercion or insanity, for instance. Some classes of people, such as children under ten years, may also be exempted from liability. Overseas diplomats in Britain may be entitled to immunity from criminal proceedings, but are expected to respect the law.

The classification of crimes is often based on the kind of harm done. There are crimes, for instance, against the person of the individual (such as assault or murder), against his or her property (burglary, arson and theft are examples), and against public rights which belong in common to all citizens (such as treason and offences against public order). Classification may also be based on the methods of "trial" (as criminal proceedings are known). Serious crimes are usual tried "upon indictment" (or formal accusation) before a judge and jury; less serious crimes are tried "summarily" before magistrates sitting without a jury.




Crown Courts

The Crown Court sits at about 90 centres and is presided over by High Court judges, full-time "circuit judges" and part-time recorders. England and Wales are divided into six circuits for the purpose of hearing criminal cases. Each circuit is divided into areas containing one or more centres of the High Court and Crown Court. The six circuits are : Midland and Oxford, North-Eastern, Northern, South-Eastern (including London), Wales and Chester, and Western.

The Crown Court tries the most serious offences and "either way" offences referred to it by magistrates. All contested cases are presided over by a judge sitting with a jury.

Cases received from the magistrates' court as committals for trial form the largest element of the Crown Court's workload. In 1990, 103,011 cases were received for trial in the Crown Court, representing a four per cent increase on the numbers in 1989 and almost double the level received in 1980 (55,594).



Magistrates Courts

A magistrates' court usually consists of a "bench" of three lay, unpaid magistrates - known as justices of the peace ("JPs") - who are advised on points of law and procedure by a legally qualified clerk or a qualified assistant. There are nearly 28,000 lay magistrates serving some 450 courts. A few full-time, legally qualified stipendiary magistrates may sit alone; they usually preside in courts in urban areas where the workload is heavy. In 1992 there were 76 stipendiary magistrates in England and Wales.

Usually those charged with criminal offences first appear in a magistrates' court. Summary offences - the less serious offences which represent the vast majority of criminal cases - are tried by the magistrates themselves. The most serious offences, such as murder, manslaughter, rape and robbery, are tried on indictment (or formal accusation) only by the Crown Court. Usually those charged with such offences first appear before a magistrates' court, which decides whether to commit them to the Crown Court for trial. A third category of offences (such as theft, burglary or malicious wounding) are known as "either way" offences; they can be tried either by magistrates or by jury in the Crown Court, depending on the circumstances of each case and the wishes of the defendant.

In cases of serious or complex fraud and in some cases involving child witnesses, committal proceedings in magistrates' courts may be bypassed at the discretion of the prosecution. However, the accused can apply to the Crown Court to be discharged on the ground that there is no case to answer.



Youth Courts

Cases involving people under 18 (in October 1992 this was raised from 17 under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1991) are heard in youth courts (formerly juvenile courts). These are specialist magistrates' courts which either sit apart from other courts or are held at a different time. There are restrictions on public access and media coverage.

Where a person under 18 is charged jointly with someone of 18 or over, the case is heard in an ordinary magistrates' court or the Crown Court. If the young person is found guilty the court may transfer the case to a youth court unless satisfied that it is undesirable to do so.




A person convicted by a magistrates' court may appeal to the Crown Court against sentence if he or she has pleaded guilty. The appeal may be made against both conviction and sentence if a not guilty plea has been made. The Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court hears appeals on points of law and procedure - by either prosecution or defence - in cases originally dealt with by magistrates.

If convicted by the Crown Court, the defendant can appeal to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) against both conviction and sentence.

The House of Lords is the final appeal court, but it will only consider cases that involve a point of law of general public importance.

The Attorney General may seek the opinion of the Court of Appeal on a point of law which has arisen in a case where a person tried on indictment is acquitted. The Court has the power to refer the point to the House of Lords if necessary. The acquittal in the original case is not affected.

The Attorney General may also refer a case to the Court of Appeal if he or she considers that a sentence passed by the Crown Court is unduly lenient. This is restricted to cases which can only be tried in a Crown Court. If the Court of Appeal agrees, it may increase the sentence within the statutory maximum laid down by Parliament for the offence.

The Home Secretary may consider representations and intervene in cases where appeal rights have been exhausted. Fresh evidence is necessary if such action is to be taken.



Other Courts

Coroners Court

Coroners were first appointed in each county in the twelfth century to protect the fiscal rights of the Crown. From the beginning, coroners were concerned with violent and unexplained deaths, since in the past these brought revenue to the Sovereign through fines and the forfeiture of a convicted person's goods.

Today, coroners in England and Wales investigate violent and unnatural deaths or sudden deaths where the cause is unknown. However, an inquest is not necessary if a sudden death was due to natural causes; instead the coroner may order a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death. The coroner must hold an inquest if the person died a violent or unnatural death or died in prison or in other specified circumstances. It is the duty of the coroner's court to establish how, when and where the person died. A coroner may sit alone or, in certain circumstances, with a jury. If the coroner has reason to suspect murder, suicide, manslaughter or infanticide, or that the death was caused by a road accident, he or she must summon a jury. 



Forum Login

Please login or register to our forum.

CS Todd Vacancies
IFPA Spopnsor
RIFA advert