Legal Jargon Buster - The Different Types of Courts
There are many different types of Courts - County Court, Magistrates' Court, Crown Court and the Court of Protection.
County Court - the County Court deals with non-criminal (civil) matters.
Unlike criminal cases - in which the state prosecutes an individual - civil Court cases arise where an individual or a business believes their rights have been infringed.
Types of civil cases dealt with in the County Court include:
- Businesses trying to recover money they are owed;
- Individuals seeking compensation for injuries;
- Landlords seeking orders to evict tenants who are in arrears with rent.
Magistrates' Court - virtually all criminal court cases start in a Magistrates' Court, and more than 90% will be completed there.
The more serious offences are passed on to the Crown Court, either for sentencing after the Defendant has been found guilty in a Magistrates' Court, or for a full trial with a Judge and jury. Magistrates deal with three kinds of cases:-
- Summary offences. These are less serious cases, such as motoring offences and minor assaults, where the Defendant is not usually entitled to trial by jury. They are generally disposed of in a Magistrates' Court.
- Either-way offences. As the name implies, these can be dealt with either by magistrates or before a Judge and jury at the Crown Court. Such offences include theft and handling stolen goods. A Defendant can insist on their right to trial in the Crown Court. Magistrates can also decide that a case is so serious that it should be dealt with in the Crown Court - which can impose tougher sentences if the Defendant is found guilty.
- Indictable-only offences, such as murder, manslaughter, rape and robbery. These must be heard at a Crown Court.
Crown Court - Crown Courts deal with more serious criminal cases. If you plead not guilty, your case will be heard in front of a Judge and jury of 12 people who will decide whether you are guilty or innocent, after they have heard all the evidence.
Crown Court cases include:
- Cases sent for trial by a Magistrates' Court because the offences are 'indictable only' (ie those which can only be heard by the Crown Court)
- Either-way offences (which can be heard in a Magistrates' Court, but can also be sent to the Crown Court if the Defendant chooses a jury trial)
- Defendants convicted in Magistrates Courts, but sent to the Crown Court for sentencing due to the seriousness of the offence
- Appeals against decisions of Magistrates' Courts.
Court of Protection - when someone is mentally incapable of making a particular decision at a particular time, and they haven't made a Lasting Power of Attorney, and the decision isn't one that can be made on an informal basis, the matter can be referred to the Court of Protection. The Court may either choose to make the decision itself on the person's behalf, or choose some else, known as a 'deputy', to make the decision for them.