As many readers will be aware, the Magistrates' Court in England and Wales is typically comprised of a bench of three lay Justices or a single District Judge.
The bench can exercise its full authority with only two lay Justices sitting, but until now the powers of a single Justice have been somewhat limited.
The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 introduced a raft of measures designed to increase the efficiency of the criminal courts. One such measure, which we have briefly touched on, was the introduction of trial by a single Justice.
Trial by a single Justice is only suitable in the most straightforward of criminal cases, where the defendant pleads guilty. The majority of TV licence offences fall squarely into that category.
It is for the prosecution (e.g. Capita acting on behalf of the BBC) to decide whether or not a case is suitable for trial by a single Justice.
Some cases, due to their complexity, will continue to be dealt with by a full bench of Magistrates. In these cases, the defendant will be sent a Requisition to appear before the court and answer the charge. This situation is very similar to the previous system, which you can read more about in our earlier post.
If the prosecution deems a case suitable for trial by a single Justice, then the defendant will be sent a copy of the Single Justice Procedure Notice and written charge. The defendant will be asked to indicate a plea of guilty or not guilty. A defendant who pleads guilty can still choose to have their case dealt with by the full Magistrates' Court, otherwise it will proceed under the single Justice arrangements. A defendant who pleads not guilty will automatically have their case dealt with by the full Magistrates' Court.
You can find a lot more information about trial by a single Justice in this article.
Cases can be dealt with by a single Justice behind closed doors. A court legal advisor is present, but there are no prosecution or defence advocates. For that reason, if there is any contention at all about the circumstances of the alleged offence, we would recommend that a defendant chooses to have their case dealt with by the full Magistrates' Court.
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