What is the magistrates' court?

Magistrates' courts deal with criminal and some civil matters. Cases are heard by "justices of the peace" or by District Judges. Generally speaking, magistrates' courts only deal with cases which arise in their own area.

Every criminal case will in the first instance be heard in the magistrates' court, though some are automatically dispatched to the Crown Court for trial by jury. Other cases begin and end in the magistrates' court, where the defendant is not entitled to trial by jury (known as "summary offences" - which involve a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000).

On occasion defendants who have the option of trial by jury can decide to have their cases heard in the magistrates' court, without a jury.

Cases heard in the magistrates court include:

  • All criminal matters
  • Some civil debts (including national insurance contributions, council tax and VAT arrears)
  • Some matrimonial problems
  • Child welfare

The Good Lawyer Guide Magistrates' Court recommendations

The Good Lawyer Guide recommendations for magistrates' court firms are those firms who will take on referred cases from other practices in different parts of the country. A law firm in Town A will often refer a case to a law firm in Town B who will represent their client in the magistrates' court that covers Town B.

Contact details for magistrates' courts

HM Court Service's website has full details of local magistrates' courts in England and Wales.

To find your local magistrates' court visit www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk