If you are facing a criminal allegation your case will either be heard in the Magistrates Court or in the Crown Court. If your case is heard only in the Magistrates Court then usually your case will be dealt with fairly swiftly. If you are found guilty or if you plead, the Magistrates will often sentence you shortly after you enter a guilty plea or after the conclusion of your trial. Sometimes if the Magistrates think their sentencing powers are too limited they will send a case up to the Crown Court for sentencing. Generally the idea at the Magistrates is that cases are dealt with speedily and effectively.
If you are facing a more serious charge then your case will be heard in the Crown Court. In the Crown Court you can expect your case to proceed at a much slower pace than at the Magistrates Court. Although there is currently an impetuous for cases to move a lot quicker in the Crown Court – with the introduction of the early guilty plea scheme – generally speaking your case will take longer to conclude at the Crown Court than in the Magistrates Court.
If you enter a not guilty plea then the court will set your case down for a trial. This will mean witnesses will need to be brought to Court, including police officers, experts and any defence witnesses.
The Court will either list your case to have a “fixture” or will list your trial to go into the “warned list”.
A fixture is basically what it sounds like – you will have a fixed day to come to Court and your trial will start on that day. The Court will usually give an estimate on how long they think your trial will last, for simple cases this may be 1 or 2 days; for complex cases trials may last many months. The reason why the Courts require estimates of trial lengths is because there is severe pressure on the Crown Court system to get cases managed as effectively as possible so as to not allow any time (and costs) to be wasted.
If the Court does not give a fixture then your case will go into a “warned list”. This means that your case will start on any day during that warned period. Most often a Court will give a two week or a three week “warn period”. If your case does not start during this warn period then your case will go into another warn period – usually a few months down the line. At some Courts they will give a case they have determined suitable to go into the warned list three separate warned list periods before they give a case a fixed hearing date – this can mean some cases go on for many months before they reach trial.
Courts will often put defendants who are on bail in the warned list and defendants who are in custody (prison) will be given a fixed trial date. The reason for this being is that there are custody time limits that the Courts must observe in respect of pre-trial detention and so they strive to conclude custody cases before custody time limits elapse.
If your case is in the warned list and you are anxious that your case proceeds as soon as possible – perhaps because you are worried your defence witnesses may not be available at a later date – then your criminal defence solicitor should apply to the Court to try and get your trial a fixed date rather than being left with the uncertainty of the warned list.