Courts and the Criminal Justice System

Courts and the Criminal Justice System

Picture of Court House buildingThere are different ways that you may become involved with court proceedings or times when you need to contact the Police.

– If you are a witness or victim of a crime.
– If you do something that is wrong.




Picture of lady with signpost indicating guidanceThe Courts and Criminal Justice System are very complicated.  If you are confused about something you should ask your family carer, support provider or solicitor for advice.

A lot of the words that are used are not very easy to understand.  Some of the main ones are explained below:




Picture of two people seeing other people being frightened by another manA witness is someone who has seen someone doing something wrong.  If the Police find out that the person has done something wrong they may need to talk to you so that they can find out what you have seen.  If the thing they have done, known as a crime, is really bad the person may be arrested and be sent to Court.




Picture of young person sat on the floor being helped by the Police and a member of the publicA victim is someone who has experienced something bad being done to them by someone else.  If you are a victim you may need to tell people about what has been done to you.





Picture of professional providing adviceA Solicitor is a professional person who will act on your behalf to support you through anything that needs to happen as part of the legal system to make sure that you are protected and your views are provided in the correct way.  There are other people who are part of the legal system but your solicitor will explain who these people are at the right time.




Picture of lady with a professional in a Police Interview RoomAn Appropriate Adult is someone who needs to be with you to make sure that you fully understand what is happening and can help you to explain your side of things.





Picture of a man wearing a business suitA Magistrate is the person in charge of  the Magistrates’ Court and decides whether a person should be punished for their crime.





Picture of a Judge wearing official wigA Judge is the person who is in charge of the Court and gives instructions to everyone in the Courtroom.  The Judge decides how someone will be punished for their crime.





Picture of a man with a magnifying glassA Jury is a group of people who will listen to all of the information provided by people involved with the case and look carefully at any evidence that is available and decide whether a person is guilty or not guilty.





Picuture of scales showing right and wrongGuilty means that the person has done something wrong.

Not Guilty means that the person has not done something wrong.





Picture of Police Officer and the word LawThere are different types of Court depending on the crime:

Magistrates Court – All criminal cases start in a Magistrates’ Court.
Cases are heard by either 2 or 3 Magistrates or a District Judge.
There is no jury in a Magistrates’ Court.
A Magistrates’ Court deals with cases such as motoring offences, minor criminal damage or being drunk and disorderly.  It can also deal with some of the more serious offences for example burglary or drugs offences.

Crown Court – A Crown Court deals with serious criminal cases such as murder, rape or robbery.  A Crown Court will also deal with appeals against a Magistrates’ Court decision or cases that are passed from a Magistrates’ Court for trial or sentencing.
A Crown Court normally has a jury and a judge.

Youth Court – A Youth Court is a special type of Magistrates’ Court for people aged between 10 and 17.
A youth court has either 3 Magistrates or a District Judge.
There is no jury in a Youth Court.
People who are sent to a Youth Court must have a parent or guardian with them.

Picture of computer search facility.The following websites provide information which will help to answer some of the questions you may have about going to Court and will help you to understand what happens at Court:

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – general information about the different types of Court and what will happen if you are a witness or victim of a crime.
North Somerset Magistrates Court – local information about the Court building based in Weston-Super-Mare and the court system.
KeyRing is an organisation that is working with the Criminal Justice System to help offenders with a Learning Disability.  Their website provides easy-read information about different parts of the legal system.
Staying Positive: The Criminal Justice System and Learning Disabilities [Produced by the Department of Health [Download pdf]

Picture of individual with team of health and social care professionals

Avon Forensic Community Learning Disability Team a small specialist team working with adults with learning disabilities who have committed offences or are at risk of offending.  The Avon Forensic Community Learning Disability Team offers risk assessments, advice to teams, and works with individuals and groups.  The Avon Forensic Community Learning Disability Team is based in Bristol but covers the Avon Area including North Somerset, staff are employed by the NHS and take referrals from local community teams, social services, the criminal justice system.  People with learning disabilities can also refer themselves.

Avon and Wiltshire Partnership Criminal Justice Liaison and Diversion Service [Download pdf] – supports individuals in police custody and courts and provides an assessment and liaison service.


Picture of easy read booklet and DVDHere are some recommended information and resources including clear books – please note some resources may incur costs.

Books Beyond Words – a selection of books for people who find pictures easier to understand than words.

There is a range of books about the Criminal Justice System:

Supporting Victims
You’re Under Arrest
Going to Court
You’re On Trial
You’re In Prison