How to appeal from the magistrates’ court
The right to a trial by a jury is considered a fundamental right in English law, and a protection for the individual against oppression by the state. Jurors bring the values of ordinary, reasonable people into the courtroom, meaning that defendants who have a jury trial are tried by their equals. Unfortunately, over 90% of criminal cases never reach a jury. Instead they are tried in the magistrates’ court, by either three magistrates, or a single district judge. For a whole series of reasons, magistrates are considerably more likely to convict defendants than juries are. So what can you do if you are wrongly convicted in the magistrates’ court?
Appeal to the Crown Court
If you were convicted after trial or sentenced in a magistrates’ court, you have the right to appeal to the Crown Court against either your conviction and sentence, or your sentence alone. It is not possible to appeal only against your conviction. Your appeal has to be filed within 21 days of sentence. If the appeal is filed late then you can apply for an extension of time to appeal, but this might not be granted by the court.
The appeal in the Crown Court is heard by a judge and two magistrates. Despite this being a Crown Court, there is no jury. If you appealed against conviction and sentence, then the Crown Court holds a complete re-trial, just like the trial in the magistrates’ court. At the end of the trial, you can be found guilty or not guilty. If you are found not guilty then the case comes to an end.
If you are found guilty on an appeal against conviction and sentence, or if you only appealed against sentence, then the Crown Court will re-sentence you from scratch. That means you can be given a lower sentence, the same sentence, or even a higher sentence than what you received in the magistrates’ court. The maximum sentence that can be imposed in the Crown Court on appeal is the same as the maximum sentence that could have been imposed in the magistrates’ court. This means that appealing can sometimes be a big risk, if you got a good sentence in the magistrates’ court.
Appeal by way of case stated or appeal through judicial review
If the reason you want to appeal is because the magistrates’ court got the law wrong, or because the Crown Court on appeal got the law wrong, then you can apply to have your “case stated” to the High Court. This application has to be filed within 21 days of the decision appealed against.
If the court which convicted you, or which refused your appeal, declines to state a case to the High Court, then you can apply directly to the High Court for a judicial review of the refusal to state a case, and at the same time you can pursue the arguments you would want to run in the appeal by way of case stated. If the application to state a case is filed late then you can apply for an extension of time, but this might not be granted by the court.
A case stated only looks at the law. If you want to challenge any of the evidence, this can only be done by a re-hearing in the Crown Court.
It is important to be aware that if the magistrates’ court makes an error of law, and you then appeal to the Crown Court, you cannot then appeal by way of case stated against the decision of the magistrates’ court. If the Crown Court did not make the same error of law, then you would lose your right to appeal by way of case stated.
Apply for bail pending appeal
People who have been sent to prison by the magistrates’ court can apply for bail pending appeal. This is rarely granted, but it is almost always worth asking for it. This is because it can take many weeks or months for an appeal to be heard. If you don’t ask for bail, then you can spend your whole sentence in prison waiting for an appeal.
Costs consequences of appeals
If you lose an appeal you can be made to pay the costs of the prosecution. In appeals to the Crown Court the costs are normally about the same as in the magistrates’ court. However, appeals by way of case stated can often be very expensive, with several thousand pounds of costs.
However, if you win an appeal, then if you have paid anything (whether that is fines or costs) then you will get this back. You should also get back from the state any fees that you have paid for your own lawyers.
Apply to the Criminal Cases Review Commission
If you have appealed from the magistrates’ court already and your appeal was refused, then you can apply to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) for a review of your conviction or sentence. You can also apply to the CCRC for a review of your conviction if you tried to appeal out of time and an extension of time was refused, or if you pleaded guilty in the magistrates’ court. The CCRC is an independent body which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice. In appropriate cases it can refer cases back to the Crown Court for a new appeal.
However, applications to the CCRC take a long time, often years, to resolve. It is always important to exhaust other options before you go to the CCRC. The advantage of an application to the CCRC though is that it is free, and you do not have to pay anyone’s costs if you lose.
If you were convicted in a magistrates’ court, you have more options open to you than if you were convicted in the Crown Court. Sentences imposed by the magistrates’ court are shorter than those that the Crown Court can impose, but that doesn’t mean that you should not make use of the available options to overturn a wrongful conviction.
Before relying on any matter set out in this article, make sure to consult an expert to check that it is still up to date and how it applies to your case.