Victims' Guide - The magistrates’ court: plea hearings
A plea hearing is when the court clerk reads out the list of offences the defendant has been charged with and asks the defendant to plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’.
If the case is ready this can be done in the first hearing in the magistrates ‘court. If the case isn’t ready then the District Judge or magistrates will schedule a separate plea hearing for this to happen.
If the defendant pleads ‘guilty’ to all the charges, the district judge or magistrates can sentence the defendant straight away or they can send the case to the Crown Court if they think the defendant deserves a greater sentence than they have the power to give. They can also postpone (adjourn) the sentencing hearing to ask for more information to help them decide what the sentence should be.
This can include a ‘pre-sentence’ report, written by the probation service, which provides an independent assessment of the offender and the risks they pose.
We will also provide the court with your ‘Victim Personal Statement’ if you have provided one. The police will ask you if you’d like to provide one during the investigation - this is your opportunity to explain how the crime has impacted you.
If you would like to read your ‘Victim Personal Statement’ out loud to the court, then we can apply to the court for you to do this. Otherwise, the prosecutor may read it out loud or the District Judge or magistrates will read it for themselves.
The District Judge or magistrates will then use that information to decide what sentence the defendant will receive in line with the sentencing guidelines for the offence they’ve been convicted of.
Sentencing guidelines are set by the Sentencing Council in line with UK law.
If the defendant pleads ‘guilty’ to some of the charges but ‘not guilty’ to others, the CPS prosecutor will have to decide whether or not to accept the ‘guilty’ pleas.
They also need to decide what action to take on the charges to which the defendant has pleaded ‘not guilty’.
The prosecutor has two options:
1. They can either ‘offer no evidence’ for the charges to which the defendant has pleaded ‘not guilty’. If we offer no evidence this means that the court will record a ‘not guilty’ verdict for those charges and we cannot take further action on them. The District Judge or magistrates will then sentence the defendant only for the charges to which the defendant has pleaded ‘guilty’.
2. They can ask for the charges to which the defendant has pleaded ‘not guilty’ be listed for trial. The defendant won’t be sentenced for any charges until after the trial has happened.
This includes whether the court would be able to give the defendant a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the crimes we have charged them with. For example, if a defendant pleaded ‘guilty’ to a more minor offence like theft but ‘not guilty’ to a more serious offence like rape then the sentence the court could give them would not reflect the seriousness of the crimes we charged them with. If we don’t think the court would be able to give the defendant an appropriate sentence then we will ask for the remaining charges to be listed for trial.
Where possible we will take your views as the victim into account to help us decide whether it is in the public interest to accept the plea.
If the defendant pleads ‘not guilty’ to all the charges the judge or magistrates will set a date for the trial.