Criminal proceedings introduced
All criminal proceedings begin in the Magistrate’s Court (or the Court of Alderney or Court of the Sénéschal in Sark, depending upon where in the Bailiwick the alleged crime may have been committed).
If the matter is comparatively trivial a person alleged to have committed that crime is unlikely to be arrested or may be arrested only briefly and then released. He will normally be summoned to appear in the Magistrate’s Court on a certain date and at a certain time to answer any charge made against him. If the matter is more serious the person is likely to be arrested and kept in police custody until the next sitting of the relevant court (i.e. the Magistrate’s Court if the crime is alleged to have been committed in Guernsey). At that sitting (often referred to as “the first hearing” or “appearance” the matter may be disposed of altogether if it is comparatively minor, a guilty plea is to be entered and no reports or further enquiries are required. In such circumstances, the individual or his Advocate would indicate a guilty plea, the facts would be read to the Magistrate, a plea in mitigation made and sentence passed.
For a more serious case it is very unlikely that everything can be dealt with at the first hearing; for example, the prosecutor may need further time to prepare his case, witnesses may not be available or the Magistrate’s Court may not have power to deal with the matter. In those circumstances the case will be adjourned to another day and the question of bail considered; i.e. whether the defendant should be remanded on bail (at liberty) or in custody. Everything depends on the circumstances of the offence and the individual concerned, i.e. how serious the matter is and how it is likely to be dealt with if there is a conviction, how likely it is that the defendant will come back to court rather than try to abscond and so on. Conditional bail can be granted, e.g. on condition that he surrender his passport and report to the police station weekly.
At the next hearing there may be a “mode of trial” hearing, i.e. deciding if the case is to stay in the Magistrate’s Court or go to the Royal Court. Typically a defendant who intends to plead guilty will want to keep the case in the Magistrate’s Court because of the restricted sentencing powers of the Magistrate. If the defendant is pleading not guilty and the matter is reasonably serious then he is likely to elect Royal Court trial; equally if it is sufficiently serious the Court and/or the prosecutor will also require Royal Court trial.
If the case is to go to the Royal Court there is a committal hearing. This can either take the form of a mini trial itself on the single issue of whether there is a case to answer or else be dealt with in shorter form by way of a brief consideration of the documents, including the written statements of the main witnesses. This is often called a “paper committal”. It is rare that there is no case to answer. A case may be committed to the Royal Court even though the plea is to be guilty, i.e. because the Magistrate’s sentencing powers are inadequate; e.g. the typical drug importation case.
A criminal trial in the Magistrate’s Court and Royal Court take very similar forms, except that in the Magistrate’s Court the Magistrate sits alone, whereas in the Royal Court the Judge (Bailiff, Deputy Bailiff or Lieutenant Bailiff) sits with 7 or more Jurats. The Judge deals with issues of law and procedure. The Jurats decide the facts, i.e. whether to convict or not. The Judge and the Jurats together decide the sentence, which is announced by the Judge.
Note that there is also a Juvenile Court, which is a special form of Magistrate Court, which deals with most criminal matters concerning young persons.
There are rights of appeal from the Magistrate’s Court to the Royal Court and from the Royal Court to the Court of Appeal and from the Court of Appeal to the Privy Council (although very rare in criminal cases).
In the sense of explaining the circumstances of the offender and the offence to the Court with the intention of drawing out whatever can properly be said in his or her favour; for example previous good character, young age, remorse, guilty plea, co-operation with the police and so on.