Going to court

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  • Hafal’s advice: If you are summoned or charged by the police and released from custody you should see a solicitor as soon as possible. You may be eligible for Legal Aid if you cannot afford the services of a solicitor. It also depends on factors such as how likely it is that you may win the case. The Legal Services Commission (LSC) provides advice and legal representation for people facing criminal charges through the Criminal Defence Service (CDS). More information can be found at www.clsdirect.org.uk or on 0845 3454345.




All criminal cases, even the most serious, begin in a magistrates’ court. The magistrates listen to the evidence and (in less serious cases) decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty and, where appropriate, determine the sentence.

More serious criminal matters are referred by the magistrates’ court to the Crown Court which deals with both adults and young people. The Crown Court has a judge presiding over trials and a jury consisting of 12 persons randomly selected from a list of all those persons aged 18–70 who are registered as electors.

• First Court Appearance

If you attend court for a criminal offence you may want to bring a friend to support you. Take with you any papers you have about your case. When you arrive tell a court official and your solicitor. Check the notice board as it will show when your case will be heard and where you need to go.

Remember to attend in plenty of time and to be prepared to wait until your name is called. Dress appropriately and take a pen and paper. Also remember to take any medication you may need with you.

At your first appearance in magistrates’ court you will normally be asked to enter your plea of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. If you plead guilty the court will request an ‘all options report’ before passing sentence. If you plead guilty the first time you are asked for your plea in court then you will receive a reduction in your sentence. If you plead not guilty, a date will be set for your trial.

You may be sent to prison for a period of time (known as being ‘remanded in custody’), given bail, ordered to appear in court or admitted to hospital for an assessment. If you are given bail, it may be with conditions.

If the solicitor recognises that a client has a mental health condition they may request a delay in the proceedings until a psychiatric report can be obtained.

• Sentencing

If you are convicted – that is found guilty of the offence(s) – you may be sentenced immediately. Most people are called back to court for sentencing at a later date. During this period you are likely to be asked to see the Probation Service. They will prepare a pre-sentence report. The purpose of this report is to provide an assessment of your needs, the risk you pose to others and your readiness or ability to change your behaviour. The report is designed to assist the court in reaching a decision about how best to sentence you.

  • Hafal’s advice: It is very important that you cooperate with the Probation Service when they prepare a report about you. Don’t forget to tell them about your mental illness and the treatment you receive or need.


The main sentences of a court are:
• Custodial sentence (for the most serious offences).
• Suspended sentence.
• Community sentences.
• Fines.
• Discharge.
• Conditional discharge.
• Compensation.

If you receive any sentence at court other than a prison sentence, you must find out what the sentence is and what you must do next. Do not be afraid to ask the usher or the clerk of the court to explain this to you. Your solicitor should not leave court until they have explained to you exactly what has happened to you and what you need to do next.

You may receive a community sentence with a number of conditions attached. This means that you will be under the supervision of the Probation Service in the community and that they will design a programme of work for you to undertake.

The Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR) was introduced by the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014. It is a single new requirement that the court can include as part of a participant’s community sentence. The RAR includes a combination of appointments and activities designed to support and monitor the offender’s progress through their sentence and support their rehabilitation.

If a psychiatric report has been obtained recognising that you have a mental health condition, the outcome may be different. When the magistrates have found someone with a mental illness guilty they may decide to impose:
• A hospital order: this is known as being ‘sectioned’ and is based on the evidence of two doctors.
• A guardianship order: when the court places you under the guardianship of the local authority for the protection of yourself/others.
• An absolute discharge: when the court takes no further action against you (but you will have a criminal record).