The Magistrates' Court is responsible for dealing with 97% of all adult and youth criminal cases in England and Wales. They also refer the most serious cases on to the Crown Court.
Some crimes that are dealt with in the Magistrates' Court:
- Careless Driving
- Criminal Damage
Magistrates deal with other issues too, such as environment (which can cover fly-tipping to badger baiting, water pollution to stealing bluebells) and wildlife crime and fine enforcement. There are also cases brought by local authorities covering health and safety, food cleanliness, planning matters, school truancy.
Other prosecutions can include animal cruelty, copyright matters for videos, downloading music illegally, destroying special trees etc.
Magistrates (Justices of the Peace) are a vital part of the criminal justice system. They are local people who volunteer their services in order to administer local justice.
They are impartial and independent of the Police and Crown Prosecution Service, but receive training by the courts in matters of law and sentencing guidelines. Magistrates are not paid for their time (other than travelling expenses).
There are also District Judges who may sit in a Magistrates' Court instead of a bench. District Judges are legally qualified and paid to carry out this function. They have the same powers as Magistrates but are sometimes used for more complex cases.