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Magistrates' court (England and Wales) facts for kids

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In England and Wales, a magistrates' court is a lower court, where almost all criminal proceedings start. Some civil matters are also decided here, notably family proceedings. They have been streamlined to deliver justice swiftly. In 2015 there were roughly 330 magistrates' courts in England and Wales, though the Government was considering closing up to 57 of these. The jurisdiction of magistrates' courts and rules governing them are set out in the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980.

Summary offences are smaller crimes, that can be punished under the magistrates' court's limited sentencing powers – community sentences, fines, short custodial sentences. Indictable offences, on the other hand, are serious crimes (murder); if an initial hearing at the magistrates' court finds there is a case to answer, they are committed to the Crown Court, which has a much wider range of sentencing power. Either-way offences will ultimately fall into one of the previous categories depending on how serious the particular crime in question is.

Cases are heard by a bench of three (or occasionally two) lay judges, or by a paid district judge (magistrates' court); there is no jury at a magistrates' court. Criminal cases are usually, although not exclusively, investigated by the police and then prosecuted at the court by the Crown Prosecution Service. Defendants may hire a solicitor or barrister to represent them, often paid for by legal aid.

There are magistrates' courts in other common-law jurisdictions.

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