A criminal offence can be classified into three different categories: summary offences, either-way offences or indictable offences. The type of offence determines in which court your case will be heard. A criminal solicitor has experience representing clients in both the Magistrate’s Court and the Crown Court. They will be able to put together a strong defence to achieve the best possible outcome for you. By understanding what type of offence you are being accused of, you will be able to prepare yourself for what to expect. Your criminal solicitor will speak to the police and relevant authorities to find out exactly what type of offence you are being accused of and will be able to provide the best legal advice accordingly.
A summary offence is the least serious type of criminal offence. The majority of summary cases are dealt with in the Magistrate’s Court. Examples of summary cases include low-level motoring offences, minor criminal damage, shoplifting, common assault and being drunk and disorderly. A summary offence can result in a fine, up to six months in prison, a community order or a ban such as a driving disqualification. In some cases, the magistrate may decide that the offence is more serious than initially assumed, and you may be tried as an either-way offence.
An either-way offence can be heard in the Magistrate’s Court, or in some cases, you can choose a Crown Court trial. The magistrates will decide whether or not it is suitable for the Magistrate’s Court, and if it is now, it will be passed onto the Crown Court. A trial is dealt with much more quickly at the Magistrate’s Court, and the magistrate’s sentencing powers are also limited to a certain extent which can work in your favour. Either-way offences can vary greatly in seriousness. Examples of either-way offences include theft, burglary, drug offences, dangerous driving, assault and GBH. If dealt with in a Magistrate’s Court, then the maximum sentence for an either-way offence is 6 months in prison; however, if the case is referred to the Crown Court, the maximum penalty for an either-way offence could be significantly more as defined by the law. The difference is if your case is heard in the Magistrate’s Court, then it takes the prosecution only one or two people to establish a guilty verdict, whereas if your case is heard in The Crown Court, a unanimous verdict amongst 12 jurors or a majority verdict of at least 10 jurors is necessary for a guilty verdict.
An indictable offence can only be heard at The Crown Court; however, you will still have to appear at a Magistrate’s Court, to begin with. The most serious offences of murder, manslaughter and rape are indictable offences, and trials can be lengthy and complicated. Being accused of an indictable offence can bring your life to a standstill and affect your family, livelihood and mental health and well-being. The judges have greater powers of sentencing, and you can receive the maximum sentence for these offences, which is life imprisonment. You must have the representation of a top criminal solicitor from the outset to achieve the best possible outcome for you.