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Someone charged with a crime must go to court to answer that charge.
A person accused of a crime is called a ‘defendant’. The authority responsible for prosecuting the case in court is called the ‘prosecutor’. In most cases that will be the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
There are three types of criminal court in the UK:
All criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court.
Cases are heard by either:
There's no jury in a magistrates’ court. The district judge decides if the defendant is guilty or not and what sentence to give.
A magistrates’ court normally handles cases known as ‘summary offences’, for example:
It can also deal with some of the more serious offences, such as:
These are called ‘either way’ offences and can be heard either in a magistrates’ court or a Crown Court.
Magistrates’ courts always pass the most serious crimes to the Crown Court, for example:
These are known as ‘indictable offences’.
A Crown Court normally has a jury which decides if the defendant is guilty or not, and a judge who decides on the sentence.
A youth court is a special type of magistrates’ court for people aged between 10 and 17.
A youth court has either:
There is no jury in a youth court.
If the defendant is found guilty then the judge, or magistrate, will decide the sentence.
A sentence can be an order to spend time in prison, to pay a fine, or to carry out unpaid work, or to do, or not do, other things.
Find out more about How sentences are worked out.