Criminal Courts and Appeals

Criminal Courts and Appeals

 Notes:Criminal Courts and Appeals Notes Criminal Courts and Appeals Notes Appeals by the P from trials in the Crown Court Appeals by the P from trials in the Crown Court Appeals by the D from trials in the Crown Court Appeals by the D from trials in the Crown Court Appeals by the P from trials in the Magistrates Court Appeals by the P from trials in the Magistrates Court Appeals by the D from trials in the Magistrates Court Appeals by the D from trials in the Magistrates Court 

The simple guide to Criminal Courts and Appeals:

Task: Follow the link and attempt the quiz called Basic Criminal Courts and Appeals.

Criminal Courts


There are 3 different types of hearings that can take place in a court:


  1. A pretrial hearing - this is when the D first appears at the court to decide basic issues such as what offence they are charged with, whether they plead guilty or not guilty, the calling of witnesses for the P or D, whether the D needs financial help with legal representation (called legal aid) and the date and place for the next hearing.

  2. Trial - Where the D pleads not guilty there must be a hearing so the P prove to the Magistrates or jury that the D has committed the crime beyond reasonable doubt. The is innocent until proven guilty and can provide evidence at the hearing to raise at least a doubt as to whether he committed the crime. The Magistrates in the Magistrates Court or the jury in the Crown Court then decide whether the D is guilty or not guilty of the offence. Only these two courts hear criminal trials

  3. .Appeal - Both the D and the P have certain rights to challenge a decision in a criminal trial. There are 3 main reasons either party might challenge the decision in the trial, conviction, sentence or Point of Law.


Pretrial hearings


There are about 1.9 million criminal cases each year in England and Wales. The Magistrates court sees each case initially but for serious offences they are sent immediately to the Crown Court.  As there are so many cases the type of offence is split into 3 types depending on how serious the crime is:


  1. Summary offences: Are the least serious offences and can only be tried in the Magistrates Court. The maximum fine for an offence is £5000 and the maximum sentence 6 months in prison. Examples would be speeding or common assault.

  2. Triable either way offences: Are the medium serious offences that can be tried in either the Magistrates or the Crown Court. The Magistrates will send the case to the Crown Court if it is too serious or too complicated for them to deal with. Otherwise the D will be asked to decide where the trial will take place.Examples would be S20 malicious wounding or Theft.

  3. Indictable offences: Are the most serious offences and can only be dealt with by the Crown Court. The maximum fine for an offence is unlimited and the maximum prison sentence is life. Examples would be S18 Grievous Bodily Harm with intent and Murder.





The Magistrate court deals with either summary or triable either way offence trials. The Crown Court deals with indictable offence trials.


3 Magistrates, who are ordinary people who volunteer to be a judge, hear evidence with a legally trained Magistrates Clerk to help them with legal issues. They then decide on whether the D is guilty or not. If they decide D is guilty or D pleads guilty they will then pass a sentence.


In the Crown Court a professional judge who has previously been a lawyer for at least 10 years manages the case and decides what law is relevant. The 12 randomly chosen jury members are solely responsible for deciding whether the D is guilty. On a finding of guilt the judge will decide the sentence




All appeals are heard by a different court than the one that conducted the original trial and with different judges.


There are 3 main reasons why the D or the P may appeal:


  1. On conviction - Where the D is found guilty he can ask another court to check this is correct. In exceptional situations the P can also appeal where the D is found not guilty. The appeal court can uphold the original conviction or not guilty verdict, find the D not guilty by quashing the original conviction or if the evidence is still unclear quash the original verdict and instruct the court to hold a retrial with all the witnesses and evidence.

  2. On Sentence - Where the D believes his sentence is too harsh this can be reconsidered. The P also have the right to have a sentence reviewed if it is very (unduly) lenient for the crime committed. The appeal court can uphold the original sentence, increase or decrease the sentence.

  3. On a Point of Law - Each crime has its own set of rules either found in an Act or Parliament or in earlier cases. The judge in the case must tell the jury and lawyers what rules are relevant to the case and how they should be applied. Sometimes where the current case is the first of its kind the judge makes the rules. Either the P or the D can challenge on a point of law where they believe the rules have not been correctly interpreted or applied. The Appeal court must first decide how the law should have been applied in the case and if the trial judge made any mistakes. Once the correct approach is established the appeal court apply the law to case to decide whether or not the outcome of the case would change,ie whether D could be found not guilty, where the original decision is upheld or whether there should be a retrial.

    Task: Read the case report for RE S RE S about a mother and father who refused a life saving Caesarean. Then Complete the case activity case activity.


The Appeal courts


    1. Crown Court - The D has a right to appeal to the Crown Court from a trial held in the Magistrates Court either on Conviction (as long he pleaded not guilty) or sentence. 2 new Magistrates and a judge rehear the whole case again and decide whether the decision should be  changed. The P has no right of appeal on Conviction or sentence.

    2. Queens Bench Divisional Court of the High Court (QBD) - Where there was a trial in the Magistrates Court the D or the P can appeal on a Point of Law to this court. One or two High court judge(s) listens only to the evidence surrounding the Point of Law issue, not the whole case. Both the D and the P have to provide a written summary of what they believe the law is and how this affects the case using a process known as “by way of case stated”.  The judge then follows the process shown earlier under Point of Law appeals.

      Where the trial was in the Crown Court the P can appeal to the QBD where there is evidence that the jury has been influenced when making their decision as to guilt, called Jury Nobbling. Under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 the QBD can order a retrial or even hold a trial without a jury if this is the only way to ensure a fair trial of the D (Criminal Justice Act 2003).

      Jury Nobbling and trials without juries

      TASK: Watch the video about the first case in 800 years to be held without a jury. Then give reasons why this may be unfair to the D's and also why it might be unfair to society if the approach is abused by the state. What are the arguments for using this approach in exceptional situations? Use the links to help research possible reasons. BBC Coverage of Appeal. Daily Telegraph article on trial without jury.

      The Attorney General (AG) is the head lawyer for the government and his office is responsible for ensuring criminal law rules are developed to protect the public. Where a case in the Magistrates court creates a point of law that is not in the public interest the AG can refer that case to the QBD to challenge the law for any future similar cases. This is known as an Attorney Generals Reference. It is not an appeal by the P or the D. The case is dealt with similar to that of a point of law but the original verdict is not changed, just the law if appropriate.

      3. Court of Appeal - The P or D can appeal on Conviction, sentence or point of Law from a trial in the Crown Court but must be granted the right to appeal (leave to appeal) by the Appeal court judge.For an appeal on sentence by the D his sentence cannot go up it can only stay the same or go down. For an appeal on conviction by the D it must be regarded as unsafe before the court will follow the procedure shown earlier in the notes. Point of Law appeals also follow the process shown earlier for both P or D appeals. The P can appeal on a not guilty verdict under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 but only where there is evidence that shows a high chance of guilt and for very serious offences such as murder. This breaks the long established double Jeopardy rule where it is regarded as unfair to try a person for the same crime more than once. For appeals by the P on sentence it must be regarded as “unduly lenient” before the court will increase a D’s sentence.

      TASK: Watch the video clip on the double jeopardy rule. Give 3 reasons why the it was important to allow exceptions to the rule and 3 reasons as to why this might be unfair to the D.

      AG references can be requested to the Court of Appeal in for trials in the Crown Court and are proceed in the same way as those made to the QBD.

      4. The Supreme Court
      - Is the final appeal court for Criminal appeals. P or D can ask for “leave” (the right to appeal to this court) to appeal from either a Supreme Court judge or a judge in the appeal court they have just had their case heard in. The case must be one that is regarded as of importance to the general public in order for the appeal to take place. The appeal can only be about a Point of Law of general public importance, eg the age at which criminal responsibility starts or what point does a person stop being a human being for the purposes of the offence of murder. The court decide the case as shown earlier in the notes under point of law but clearly as the most important court in the English legal system the courts decisions are extremely important in the development of English Law and must be followed in future cases by all other courts.



Essay writing Task: Answer the following exam question. In the exam you will need to write a complete answer in 10 minutes. Students on average write between 1 and 1.5 sides of A4. Being Concise, accurate and including any Acts of parliament and key legal terms are critical to achieving the best marks.


Outline both of the following:


  • the trial and appeal courts that can hear adult criminal cases


  • the types of cases dealt with by these courts.                                                     (10 marks)


Assessment:  This is a formal quiz online for which you need your username and password. If you don’t have this please ask your tutor.

You only get one chance to complete this quiz the results of which will go towards your progress grade. The quiz allows you a maximum of 25 minutes to complete it after which you will not be able to access it again.

Please make sure you have revised thoroughly for the quiz and good luck. The quiz is called: Criminal Appeals.



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