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EXPLAINED: What happens when someone goes to court?

EXPLAINED: What happens when someone goes to court?

Thursday 08 April 2021

EXPLAINED: What happens when someone goes to court?


A local lawyer has explained how Jersey's court process works in the final part of a series aiming to demystify the island's criminal justice system.

On Tuesday, BCR Law’s Advocate Francesca Pinel looked at what happens before and after someone is arrested, and yesterday explained what happens when someone is charged.

You can catch up with arrest here and charging here. 

Today, she turns to the next step in the process...

There are a number of different ways a case can proceed through the criminal justice system, but almost all cases start their journey with a first appearance before the Magistrate’s Court.  

Francesca pinel

Pictured: Advocate Francesca Pinel.

How the case proceeds from there depends on various factors. The two most important are the seriousness of the offence and the defendant’s plea. In an ideal world, the Magistrate’s Court would address both issues on first appearance in order to get the case moving quickly and efficiently through the criminal justice system. However, this is not always possible.

The Magistrate’s Court has the power to sentence a defendant to a maximum of 12 months’ imprisonment. If the offence is likely to attract a sentence in excess of 12 months, the case must be sent to the Royal Court; if not it will remain in the Magistrate’s Court.

The defendant’s plea 

If the defendant admits the charge and enters a guilty plea the case can proceed to sentence; if the defendant denies the charge and enters a not guilty plea the case must go to trial.

From the defendant’s perspective, the case starts when it is called by the Centenier, i.e. when their name is read out. At this point the defendant must enter the dock. They will enter the dock either from the custody suite (if they were refused bail) or from the public gallery (if they were warned to appear).

The first order of business is for the defendant to confirm their name, date of birth and address. Then the Centenier will read out the charge and the defendant will be asked to enter a plea, either guilty or not guilty.

If the defendant is not ready to plead they can ask permission to enter no plea.  

Whether or not a defendant will be in a position to enter a plea will depend on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the offence; the amount and/or complexity of the evidence; and whether they have had sufficient time to obtain legal advice. 

In practice, most defendants do not have a lawyer of their own on first appearance and must rely on the Duty Advocate (a lawyer provided by the legal profession free of charge) to help them through their first appearance.  

Minor charge

If the charge is relatively minor and the evidence is straightforward, the defendant will ordinarily be expected to enter a plea. If they plead guilty it may be possible to sentence the defendant then and there and that will be the end of the matter. If they plead not guilty the case will be adjourned for trial.

Serious charge

If the charge is relatively serious, the Magistrate will seek further information about the facts of the alleged offence in order to determine whether it should be dealt with in the Magistrate’s Court or the Royal Court.  

They will also seek further information about the defendant in order to determine whether or not they should be granted bail and, if so, whether it should be subject to any particular conditions.

The case will then be adjourned to a future date (between two and six weeks) for the next step in the process whether it be for plea, sentence, committal to the Royal Court or trial.  

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