cambridgeshire magistrates

funded by the Cambridgeshire Branch of the Magistrates' Association

Court Procedures

When you enter a courthouse, security staff will require you to pass through a security arch, similar to the ones seen in airports.

Look for a person wearing a black gown - this is the usher. Explain to him or her why you have come to the courthouse and they will direct you where to go. if you are a defendant and do not already have a solicitor, the usher can tell you about getting assistance from a duty solicitor if you wish and are eligible for free advice.

In the court room, you will see the bench where the three magistrates sit, usually beneath a royal coat of arms which shows that the work of the court is done in the name of the Crown. When the magistrates enter the courtroom, it is customary to stand to show respect for the authority of the court. For the same reason, everyone addressing the magistrates must stand while they are speaking, unless given special permission not to do so.

In front of the magistrates sits the legal adviser, a legally qualified clerk who steers the business of the court and advises on points of law when necessary.

The defendant appears in the dock if the matter they are charged with is serious, or in the 'well of the court' if it is less serious. If the defendant has a legal representative, that person sits near them. An interpreter may assist if the defendant is unable to understand or speak English well enough to follow the formalities of court proceedings.

At the start of each case, the legal adviser asks the defendant to confirm their name, address and date of birth. The prosecutor outlines the case against the defendant and then the defence, either the defendant's legal representative, or the defendant in person, has the chance to respond.

If someone is called to give evidence, they stand in the witness box. They are asked either to swear a religious oath on a religious book of their choosing, or to affirm or promise "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth". It is an offence - perjury - to break this oath or affirmation. Witnesses can have help from the witness support service. To learn more about the witness support service click here.

Before finalising their decision about sentence, the magistrates may seek a report from a probation officer who can tell them about the background and life of the offender and assess the risk that they will re-offend.

You may see television screens in the courtroom. These may be linked to a room in another part of the building to enable 'vulnerable' witnesses to give evidence without having to be in the same room as the defendant, which they may find intimidating. The screens may also be linked to a prison so certain procedures can be completed without having to bring the prisoner to court.