Appealing a Magistrates’ Court conviction to the Crown Court – A Guide
Many people feel aggrieved at their conviction in the Magistrates Court and wish to appeal their conviction or the sentence that they received. The most commonly pursued route of appeal is to the Crown Court. The right of appeal from the Magistrates Court to the Crown Court is absolute and the hearing is the case tried anew; it involves a complete rehearing of the original trial before a Crown Court judge and two magistrates.
Each case is unique and there can be many reasons why a Defendant may feel that they have been wrongly found guilty or unfairly sentenced.
The common circumstances that may lead a Defendant to begin the appeal process include:
• They feel that the Court came to the wrong decision on the facts of the case;
• Evidence has been allowed in that should have been excluded;
• Evidence has not been allowed in that should have been included;
• The law has been misinterpreted;
• A procedural mistake or prejudicial situation occurred; and/or
• New evidence has come to light.
I am often approached by clients who feel that their cases were not given sufficient attention by their representatives in the Magistrates' Court. An appeal to the Crown Court allows the client to 'have another go' at the trial with different legal representatives if necessary.
The main right to appeal to the Crown Court is contained in Section 108 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980. Appeals against conviction to the Crown Court are governed by Part 34 of the Criminal Procedure Rules.
I outline below a Q&A to assist Defendants who are considering their right to appeal:
Q: I pleaded not guilty at the Magistrates Court but I have been found guilty. Can I appeal?
A: You can appeal regarding both your conviction and your sentence.
Q: I pleaded guilty at the Magistrates Court and I have been sentenced. Can I appeal?
A: You can appeal regarding your sentence, not your conviction. In some circumstances you may be able to appeal in order to vacate your guilty plea but this is a technical legal matter and you should contact a lawyer to discuss this if you feel that this applies to your case.
Q: I was convicted at the Magistrates Court but I was sentenced at the Crown Court, can I appeal?
A: The appeal would be an “appeal from the Crown Court” and would need to be to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). It is not an “appeal to the Crown Court” which this guide addresses. You can contact Quentin directly to discuss this if you require this advice.
Q: Does something had to have happened (like a mistake in the process) at the Magistrates Court for me to appeal to the Crown Court?
A: No, the right of appeal from the Magistrates Court to the Crown Court is absolute.
Q: How do I appeal to the Crown Court?
A: A notice of appeal must be completed and served upon the Magistrates Court office and the Prosecution (the respondent). You will need to set out the legal issues in the case that form the basis of your appeal. Part 34 of The Criminal Procedure Rules 2020 identifies in full what needs to be included.
Q: What is the time limit for an appeal to be made to the Crown Court?
A: The notice of appeal must be served within 15 business days (21 days) after sentence or the date sentence is deferred (whichever is earlier) or after the order or failure to make an order about which the appellant wants to appeal.
The form can be found here at Part 34.
Time does not begin from the date of conviction even if the appeal is regarding conviction and sentence.
Q: Can I appeal after the deadline?
A: If the deadline of 15 business days (21 days) has been missed then you should obtain legal advice urgently. You can apply to appeal but permission to appeal would have to be requested from the Crown Court before you can appeal.
Q: What happens after my notice of appeal is served?
A: The Prosecution (the respondent) will serve a respondent's notice in response no more than 15 business days after the notice of appeal was served upon them. Part 34 of The Criminal Procedure Rules 2020 identifies what needs to be included.
You will then be notified of a date for your hearing.
If the case is especially complicated then the Crown Court may hold a directions hearing where directions are ordered by the Court to ensure the smooth running of the appeal.
The Crown Court will then conduct an appeal hearing. It takes the format of a re-hearing of the case that was heard in the Magistrates’ Court. The general rule is that the hearing is heard in public. You will be told whether you have won your appeal at the hearing.
The powers available to the Crown Court when dealing with an appeal are contained in section 48(2) of the Senior Courts Act 1981.
Q: What happens if my appeal is successful?
A: If your appeal regarding your conviction is successful then you are Not Guilty and your sentence no longer applies, you are “acquitted”. You will also no longer be liable for any costs or victim surcharge order from the Magistrates’ Court. It will put you in the position as if you had won your case at the Magistrates’ Court.
If your appeal regarding your sentence only is successful then your sentence will be reduced.
Furthermore, the Crown Court may order that you get some, or all of your legal costs re-paid.
Q: What happens if my appeal is unsuccessful?
A: If you are unsuccessful then your original sentence or conviction may stay the same, or it may change. The Crown Court carries out the sentencing exercise afresh. The sentence can stay the same or either increase or decrease in severity.
You may have a further right to appeal. It is essential that you obtain legal advice in these circumstances.
Q: I have started the appeal process but I have changed my mind. Can I stop the appeal?
A: You can apply to stop your appeal before the Crown Court hearing has taken place by sending a “notice of abandonment of appeal” to the Magistrates’ Court where you sent your appeal notice and the Crown Court where your hearing is due to take place. The notice can be found here.
It is important to note that your appeal cannot be restarted once it has been stopped by this notice.
Q: Is an appeal to the Crown Court my only option?
A: There are three other options that may be open to you:
1. Re-opening a case: this is done at the Magistrates’ Court whereby the case can be re-heard at the Magistrates’ Court by another District Judge or Magistrates. It would need to be in the interests of justice for this to be done.
2. Appeal by way of case stated: this is an appeal to the High Court. This appeal route is for cases where there is no factual dispute, but where there is an issue on a matter of law.
3. Appeal to the Criminal Cases Review Commission: this requires several criteria to be met, including all previous avenues of appeal to be exhausted.
You can contact Quentin directly for discussion regarding these options.
It is important to consider your right to appeal swiftly before the appeal deadline expires. My experience is that a fresh set of eyes and a meticulous approach to the preparation and conduct of such appeals can often yield excellent results.
Quentin Hunt is an award winning Criminal Barrister who has over 22 years experience in dealing with Criminal appeals. He accepts instructions either through solicitors or directly from members of the public. If you find yourself considering your options for an appeal you may contact Quentin for a free, no obligation conversation about your case.