What to expect at the Magistrates' Court

Whether or not you've attended a Magistrates' Court before, know what to expect when you do and how to be prepared.

If you have been charged at a police station, or sent a summons through the post, you need to attend court, usually in the morning at 0930 but occasionally you may be asked to attend in the afternoon at 1330.

It is important to arrive punctually as you will need some time to pass through security.


The security officers will want to look inside any bag you have with you and will ask you to empty your pockets of any metallic items, before you pass through the electronic knife detector arch. If you’re in the habit of carrying aerosols or cologne in a bag – either leave them at home or be prepared to hand them in and collect them again before you leave the building as you won’t be allowed to have them in the court building.


The Court then sits from 1000 to 1300, and then after a break for lunch from 1400 until it has completed its business, usually at about 1630. The court has a list of cases to be dealt with in each session, but it does not deal with them in any particular order, so you could appear at any time in the morning or afternoon. If any cases from the morning are not heard before lunchtime, then you will need to stay for the afternoon session as well.

In London, motoring cases are normally dealt with together in one session by the court. Outside London motoring cases are often mixed with other criminal cases.


Once inside, look for the notice board with lists of all of the cases being dealt with at that court building that day. The list may look long, but many cases are straightforward and will be processed quickly.

Don't be surprised if not everyone attends their hearing. Some may have sent in a plea by post and others may, unwisely, have decided to ignore the summons (in which case it will be dealt with in their absence anyway or delayed).


Your next step is to locate the “list caller” for your court. That's a person, usually with a clip board, who will be near the court room in which your case is listed. Make yourself know to him or her as soon as you can. It’s important that the list caller knows you are present, and that you have attended promptly, as this gives you a better chance of having your case heard earlier rather than later in the day.


After that, locate the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) representative. The CPS representative is supposed to be in court by 0930, but is all too often late.. Tell the CPS representative who you are, and s/he will usually have a bundle of papers for you. These will set out – usually in the form of statements from police officers or civilian witnesses – the prosecution’s case against you. Sometimes, you will just be given a summary of the case against you. 


If you are pleading guilty, it would be helpful to tell both the list caller and the CPS representative that this is what you intend to do. It saves unnecessary work for them, and again may help get your case dealt with earlier.


Whilst waiting for your case to be called, you can either wait just outside the courtroom, or you can sit in the public gallery of the court and watch the other cases. Remember that mobile telephones need to be switched off (putting your phone on silent or vibrate is not enough) in the court room. The last thing you want to do is annoy the Judge or Magistrates. Judge or Magistrates? Cases in the Magistrates' Court can be dealt with either by Justices of the Peace - lay people without legal qualifications, but often considerable experience of their task, and training - who sit for a few days each month to hear cases. They are advised by the court's Legal Advisor, who is legally qualified, and you will almost always see at least two, and usually three JPs sitting together. But the Magistrates' Court is also staffed by District Judges: salaried, qualified lawyers who sit to deal with cases on their own. Justices of the Peace will usually expect to be addressed as "your worship" but you should address a District Judge as "Sir" or "Madam" 


When your case is called you will be asked either to go into the dock, or more often in a motoring case, to stand or sit outside it.

In either case, you can sit down, but whenever the Magistrates, Judge or Legal Adviser are speaking to you, they will expect you to stand up.

You will be asked for your name and to give your full, current address. Then the charges will be put to you.


How the case proceeds then depends on the circumstances of your case and whether you have decided to plead guilty or not guilty to it.