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.
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.