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Going to court for the first time

By Tim Walker  |  15.09.2016

If you have never been then going to court for the first time is likely to be a daunting experience. Here we set out a few things to help you prepare.

Going to Court for the first time

The first thing to consider is whether you will need a solicitor to assist you. Everyone is different: one person may be happy to deal with everything including a trial on their own, while another wants guidance throughout proceedings. If you think that you will want or need a solicitor then we suggest that  you instruct one well in advance of the hearing. You will want to discuss funding with them: you might be entitled to Legal Aid, but if not you will want to know what the cost is likely to be. Most firms charge by the hour but you will often be able to negotiate a fixed fee so that you know how much you will have to pay.

Although there is no formal dress requirement for attending Court, we advise clients to dress in smart yet comfortable clothes.

If the charge that you face carries the possibility of imprisonment then you will be entitled to be represented by the Duty Solicitor at court for one hearing for free, although certain exceptions apply. Bear in mind that the Duty Solicitor is likely to be busy and you may have a wait on your hands. You may also find that you feel you have insufficient time, so consider instructing your solicitor of choice.

You will normally be supplied with a bundle of prosecution papers at the first hearing which will summarise the evidence against you. It is for you to decide whether you will plead guilty or not guilty.

When you go into court you will stand in the dock and be identified by your name and address. Only under very rare circumstances can these details be withheld from public announcement.

The procedure following your identification differs depending on whether the charge you face is one that can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court (summary only), can only be dealt with in the Crown Court (indictable only) or in either (either way). For a summary only case you will be asked whether you plead guilty or not guilty and you will either move to be sentenced or a trial will be fixed. Indictable only matters are sent forthwith to the Crown Court with only the question of bail being addressed. In either way matters you are asked to indicate your plea before venue is decided.

The correct manner to address a Magistrate or District Judge in the Magistrates’ Court is ‘Sir’. A judge in the Crown Court is normally addressed as ‘Your Honour’, although you won’t get into trouble if you get this wrong.

If you are likely to be fined then the Court will ask you to complete a means form. If the Court is considering a community penalty then probation will be asked to prepare a pre-sentence report.

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