The first stages of a court case will be 'heard' at a Magistrates' Court.
Please note it can take a few months to get a hearing in the Magistrates Court, a few months for a preliminary hearing at Crown Court and then you could be waiting over a year for a trial at Crown Court.
The person accused will have to attend Magistrates' Court with their legal representative. At the Magistrates' Court it is a short hearing where you will be asked to confirm your name, address and DOB, the charges against you will be read out and you will be asked to give your plea. There are usually three magistrates who are supported by a legally trained advisor. Magistrates' courts are not as formal as the Crown Court, the magistrates do not wear wigs and only the ushers (court officials who keep everything running smoothly) wear black gowns. The magistrates will decide if the case should go ahead and whether the defendant should be held or released on bail until the trial. The magistrates' decisions will also be based on the evidence. They may disagree with the CPS and decide that there is not enough evidence. If so, they will stop the case (rarely happens in historic sexual offence cases as there is often no 'actual' evidence anyway). If they agree that there is enough evidence, they will send the case to Crown Court.
The second stage is a Plea and Case Management Hearing (PCMH) at Crown Court
Again it is a short hearing where you will be asked to confirm your name, address and DOB, the charges against you will be read out and you will be asked to give your plea. This will be completed with one judge. The purpose of the PCMH is to ensure that all necessary steps have been taken in preparation for trial and sufficient information has been provided for a trial date to be arranged. The judge is required to exercise a managerial role with a view to progressing the case. If your plea is one of not guilty, a date will be set for the trial. The court must be informed of the estimated length of the trial and the availability of witnesses and counsel. Other legal matters will be confirmed including requesting prosecution serve copies of the documents containing the evidence and a draft indictment.
The third stage is the trial stage at Crown Court (assuming a plea has been made of not guilty)
At Crown Court a judge and jury (usually 12 people) will hear the case. The case is initially summarised and the indictments read. Prosection will go first and therefore the complaintant evidence will be heard first, followed by any prosecution witnesses. Once the prosecution have completed their case, it will be the turn for the defence. For the defence evidence, the defendant will go first, followed by defence witnesses. Please note no witnesses are allowed in the public gallery until after they have given their evidence or been released as a witness if their written evidence statement is accepted as read evidence and therefore that witness is not required to deliver live evidence in the trial. Also witnesses will be asked questions from both prosecution and defence counsel.
After hearing all the evidence, the jury will decide if they believe the defendant committed the crime.