Lower courts : Magistrate’s courts, Crown court, county court

Lower courts in the english legal system:

A) The Magistrate’s courts:

1) Types of cases:

Criminal: 350 Magistrates courts in England and Wales deal nearly with 2 million cases per year.

    • Summary offences: such as criminal damage under 5000£, can be dealt with by magistrates.
    • Either way offences: such as theft of higher value, criminal damage can be dealt with either by magistrate’s court or Crown court.
    • Indictable offences: such as murder, can only be dealt with by the Crown Court.

Most of the criminal cases involved sentences offenders who were pleading guilty. On the contrary, the work is bigger to have a verdict when they didn’t plead guilty.

Offenders can appeal against the decisions at the Crown court. In that case, a judge and different magistrates consider the case from the beginning.This appeal at the Crown court is possible only if it concerns the facts of the case but if the defendant is appeal from the magistrates on a point of law the appeal ruled is to the high court.

  • Civil: they should go before county courts but magistrates make decisions on some civil matters such as enforcing council tax payment. A very limited area of a civil issue in the Magistrates courts. Cases involving family dispute and application by local authorities to take children into care, very few cases.

2) Who sits in the Magistrate’s court?

=>3 lay magistrates, or

=> A professional judge who sits alone: a district judge.

Lay magistrates are volunteers, they aren’t professional judges, they are local volunteers, and they are also called “justices of the peace”. Criminal matters are judge by no professional judges, they receive a legal education but they aren’t lawyers and they are doing voluntary and unpaid. These magistrates will treat the less serious criminal cases. When the case involved a serious criminal case the decision will be rendered by the district judge, it’s a fulltime judge, it’s a member of the judiciary. He usually deals with longer and more complex matters.

B) The Crown court:

1) Types of cases:


  • Indictable offences (murder).
  • Either way offences, where the defendant chose to be tried by the Crown court. It could depend on the choice of the defendant; the defendant may choose to be tried by the Crown court if he pleads not guilty.
  • Defendants convicted in magistrate’s courts, but sent to the Crown court for sentencing due to the seriousness of the offence.
  • Hearing some appeals from the magistrate’s courts.

2) Who sits in the Crown courts?

The cases are presided by either:

A high court judge

A circuit judge: circuit judges are appointed to one of seven regions of England and Wales andthese judges will sit either in the Crown or County courts. Lawyers who have held a right of audience that means the right to appear in court as aninvoquent.

A deputy circuit judge

A recorder: fee paid judge; he doesn’t receive a salary from the judiciary. His statute is very close from one of the circuit judges about the practice is that recorders don’t hear appeals from district judges.

The jury decides if the offender is guilty or not (not for appeal, in that case: magistrates).

C) The County court:

County courts deal with civil matters.

1) The cases:

Civil only:

Businesses trying to recover money they are owed;

  • Individuals seeking compensation for injuries;
  • Landowners seeking orders that will prevent trespass
  • More complex cases involving large amount of money will appear at the high court. A part from the bigger one, the main civil cases are by the county court. Some county courts may also their cases in bankruptcy and insolvency.
  • Wills and trust < £30 000

2) Who sits in the County court?

Most county courts are aside at least:

One circuit judge: he raises more over 50 000£.

One district judge

Family circuit judge: some specialized judge which will be called the family circuit judge: dispute involving parents about their children.