The most serious crimes fall under criminal law, such as murder, assault, robbery and rape. These laws are enforced by the police and the courts, and if you break them you can face very serious consequences, including time in prison.
The prosecution process
If the police charge you with a criminal offence, theyll pass information about the case on to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS will prosecute you in court if it believes there is enough evidence to prove that youre guilty, and if it thinks it is in the public's interest to do so.
The least serious crimes are called summary offences, and trials in those cases can only be held in a Magistrates Court. More serious crimes such as murder, manslaughter and robbery are called indictable-only offences, and trials in those cases must be held in Crown Court with a judge and jury.
There are some offences that can be tried in either court. These are treated as summary offences unless the magistrate decides that it is more suitable for the Crown Court, or if you want the trial to be held at the Crown Court.
Criminal trials usually take place in open court - which means that members of the press and public are allowed to hear and see whats happening.
The laws says that if you are accused of an offence, you are innocent unless the prosecution proves that you're guilty beyond reasonable doubt. However, if you admit that you are guilty, the trial will end, and the judge will decide what punishment you deserve.
Jury members are chosen at random from the Electoral Register and attend court for two weeks or for the whole of the trial. In each case, the judge will make decisions about the laws involved, sum up the case for the jury and then either release or sentence you.
The jury is independent of the judge and the court. Its 12 members are responsible for deciding what is true and what is not from the information provided to them in court. Their verdict can be 'guilty' or 'not guilty'.
For more information on jury service and the role of a juror, follow the link below.
- Serving as a juror
Criminal justice in Scotland
There are two types of criminal procedure in Scotland: solemn and summary.
Solemn procedures are for the most serious cases, involving a trial before a judge or sheriff, and with a jury. A Scottish jury is made up of 15 people and they can decide on a verdict when eight or more of them agree.
Three verdicts are available to them: 'guilty', 'not guilty', or 'not proven'. A not proven verdict means that the jury has decided that guilt cannot be proven.
Summary procedures are used for less serious offences. They involve a trial by a sheriff without a jury, or a magistrate who may hear the case with two other magistrates.
For more information on Scotland's courts and justice system, follow the link below.
Criminal justice in Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Office deals with criminal law, the police and the penal system and the Public Prosecution Service is responsible for all criminal cases.
For more information on criminal justice in Northern Ireland, follow the link below.
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