Appeals from the Magistrates’ Court

Appeals from the Magistrates’ Court


Appeal to the Crown Court 

As well as conducting trials, Crown Courts can hear appeals from the Magistrates Court. If there was a trial that resulted in a conviction, then this can be an appeal against the Conviction or Sentence. If there was a guilty plea, then generally there can be an appeal against sentence only.

When there is an appeal, it will be heard by any Crown Court Judge sitting with two magistrates. Uniquely in English Criminal Law, an appeal is by way of re-hearing.

This means that on an appeal against conviction, everything proceeds as it did in the magistrates court; the Prosecution call their evidence, then the Defence, then there are speeches and the Judge and magistrates decide.

In an appeal against sentence, the Prosecution read out the facts and the Defence can ‘mitigate’ – put forward reasons relating to the offence or the offender that make the matter less serious and reasons why a lower sentence should be passed.

To lodge an appeal a defendant has to fill out a form and lodge it with the court. This has to be done within 21 days of the case finishing (ie, if someone wishes to appeal their conviction, they do not have to do anything until  the sentence is passed). Whilst a person can indicate why they are appealing, they do not have to.

The Prosecution cannot appeal against a conviction or sentence, however silly or irregular it may be, to the Crown Court.

High Court

There is a different route of appeal to people aggrieved by a finding (either of guilt or sentence) of the magistrates’ court. This appeal can only be launched if the finding of the magistrates court is “wrong in law, or in excess of jurisdiction”. It is called ‘case stated’ where the party who is unhappy with the result ask the Court to ‘state a case’ – set out the decision that they say is wrong – for the consideration of the High Court.

A basic example of acting in excess of jurisdiction would be if the Magistrates’ Court tried someone for robbery and found them guilty (as robbery is indictable only, it can only be tried in the Crown Court), or if they sentenced someone to 9 months for a common assault (as the maximum sentence is 6 months).

An error of law will be something that went wrong with this process. For example, the magistrates got the burden of proof wrong (said that the defendant had to prove his innocence), or allowed some evidence to be heard by the court when they shouldn’t have (for example because it was hearsay).

If there is an appeal to the Crown Court, then either side can ask the Crown Court to state a case as well. For that reason, many people who have lost in the magistrates court will appeal to the Crown Court first as they can have a ‘second bite of the cherry’ there and still go off for a further appeal to the High Court.

The appeal will be heard by one or two (and very occasionally three) High Court Judges.

The High Court can either allow or dismiss the appeal. If it is dismissed, then there is no power to increase the sentence (but the losing party can be ordered to pay the costs of the winner).

This route, unlike an appeal to the Crown Court, is open to the Prosecution as well as the defence.

Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.


  1. Who gives their evidence first when appealing a magistrate judgement at the Crown Court? Is it the appellant (defendant) or the respondent (The Crown)?
    Many Thanks

    • It depends, is the short answer. There is power for this to happen, and it often will, but it requires a positive act. So for example, if someone is sent to prison they can ask for ‘bail pending appeal’.

      • Hello

        I will be representing myself at an Appeal Hearing Canterbury Crown Court in early December 2014>
        I was convicted of beating my son and sentenced to 4 months in prison suspended for 18 months at the magistrates court. This was a miscarriage of justice as I clearly did not assault my son but the magistrates just did not want to listen to the facts. I was convicted on the basis of 2 witnesses driving at 50mph in a passing car supposedly seeing me pulling my son out of my car and kicking him at least 6 times. The magistrates did not want to look at reliance of fleeting glance evidence where caution must be given when relying on such evidence. I have 3 witnesses who all gave evidence at the magistrates court who stated I did not assault my son and there were no injuries on my son, as stated by a social worker who saw my son immediately after the event, a police officer who states the same and even the investigating police officer has stated there were no injuries to be seen on my son after this incident.
        On the police report it states they would have given me a caution if I admitted to assaulting my son at the time of my arrest and then I am given 4 months suspended prison sentence because I did not play by their rules and admit the offence.

        I was represented by a QEB Barrister at the magistrates court but this just seem to infuriate the magistrates – how dare I come to their court and be represented at such a level above them.

        Any ideas or thoughts on this case greatly received.

        • I would be happy to be added to a mailing list of those interested to learn of the outcome.

          What is the offence? It cannot be ABH or GBH, so may I assume that it is common assault?

          The caution you mentioned is presumably a caution that a judge should give in his directions to a jury.

          Can you think of anything you did that could have been mistaken for your kicking your son?

          How old is your son? Was he old enough to give evidence? Did he give evidence?

          • Hello John

            Thanks for such a prompt reply.
            The 2 independent witnesses who gave evidence at the magistrates court stated they saw me pull my son out of my car, pull him to the ground and kick him at least 6 times. They stated they saw this about 50 metres in front of them whilst they were driving at 50mph in their car. They stated they did not slow down or stop their car in evidence. Taking their speed and distance into account they had a maximum of 2 seconds to see this and this comes under fleeting glance evidence, so caution should be taken when looking at this, as explained by my barrister to the court. The magistrates did not want to listen to this.

            Also it would me reasonable to assume that if I did assault my son by kicking him at least 6 times he would have visible injuries on him. The police officer who arrested me stated he saw a slight mark to my sons face ( evidence the magistrates used in summing up why they convicted my of assault by beating on my son). This officer was in company of my son for only 5 minutes, whilst a police officer who was with my son for at least 30 minutes immediately after the incident states he saw no injuries on my son.
            Also whilst I was in police cell, the investigating police officer and a social worker visited my son at home and report seeing no injuries on my son. Again the magistrates could not see this all raises doubt in this case and I should not have bee convicted of assault by beating against my son.

            My son (age 11 at the time of the incident – the victim here) gave evidence at the magistrates court, as did a friend of my son (who was also in the car at the time of the incident), both clearly stating I did not kick my son, but only pulled my son out of the car due to him arguing and been abusive to my wife who was also in the car. My wife also gave evidence at the magistrates court, stating at no time did I assault my son. The magistrates took the view that all 3 were lying. This is disgraceful.

            I fell my solicitors and barrister could have represented me better. My barrister stated at start of my case there is a 85% conviction rate in the magistrates court and chances of me winning the case were very small to say the least. I feel this whole experience with the British Judiciary smells and this has lead to a miscarriage of justice that I will now be challenging at Canterbury Rrown Court.
            Many Thanks

          • No the caution would have been the offer at the police station,it can only be given if their is an acceptance of guilt.S39 is a summary only offence ,there is no jury.