APPEALS FROM THE MAGISTRATES' COURT TO THE DIVISIONAL COURT
Usually when you want to appeal against either a sentence or conviction which took place in the Magistrates' Court you will appeal to the Crown Court. An appeal at the Crown Court is a re-hearing so the whole sentence or trial is heard again. A less usual type of appeal from the Magistrates’ Court is an appeal direct to the High Court, or more specifically to the Divisional Court of the Queens’ Bench Division of the High Court. This is called an appeal by way of case stated and it is governed by sections 111 to 114 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 and by Part 35 of the Criminal Procedure Rules (all of which you can find in the Further Information section below).
WHAT TYPE OF CASE IS AN APPEAL BY WAY OF CASE STATED FOR?
An appeal by way of case stated is limited to appeals relating to matters of law (specifically cases where it is argued that the Magistrates or District Judge were wrong in how they applied the law or that they acted in excess of their jurisdiction, i.e. they did not have the power to act as they did). This type of appeal is not suitable for cases which depend on an assessment of the evidence, such as the reliability of witnesses.
WHO CAN SEEK TO APPEAL BY WAY OF CASE STATED?
This type of appeal is open to both the prosecution and defence.
WHAT HAPPENS AT AN APPEAL BY WAY OF CASE STATED?
There will be a careful examination by the judges in the High Court of the matters of law in question and submissions will be heard on behalf of both the prosecution and the defence. No witnesses can be called.
WHO WILL HEAR MY APPEAL IN THE high COURT?
The appeal will be heard by a at least two High Court Judges.
WHAT POWERS DOES THE high COURT HAVE WHEN DEALING WITH AN APPEAL BY WAY OF CASE STATED?
The High Court has wide-ranging powers and may reverse the decision appealed against, affirm it or amend it. The High Court can also send the case back to the Magistrates' Court with its opinion on the point of law concerned which the Magistrates or District Judge would then have to apply to the case in question. The powers of the High Court are contained in section 28A(3) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (see Further Information below).
IS APPEAL BY WAY OF CASE STATED THE ONLY WAY TO CHALLENGE A MAGISTRATES’ COURT CONVICTION OR SENTENCE?
No, the most common way to challenge either a conviction or sentence in the Magistrates' Court is to appeal to the Crown Court - you can read more here about appeal against a Magistrates' Court conviction and appeal against a Magistrates' Court sentence.
Secondly, the Magistrates’ Court has a power to vary a sentence or to direct that a defendant can have a trial heard again by another District Judge or Magistrates if, in either case, it appears to the court that it would be in the interests of justice to do so. This power is contained in section 142 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 (see Further Information below). This provision is often used to rectify mistakes where both the prosecution and the defence agree that an error has occurred, such as the court passing a sentence or making an order which it does not have power to make, or where it is agreed that the court has proceeded on the basis of an incorrect factual or legal assumption. In such circumstances an application can be made to the court under s.142 to put the matter right.
CAN I APPEAL TO THE CROWN COURT ON A MATTER OF LAW?
Yes. Case stated is only for appeals concerning matters of law or where it is suggested the Magistrates/District Judge exceeded their powers. Even so, you can still appeal from the Magistrates' Court to the Crown Court against conviction or sentence even where the only point of the appeal concerns a matter of law. Appealing to the Crown Court is quicker and far less complicated than appealing to the High Court. There is also a tactical advantage in these circumstances of doing so because, if the appeal is dismissed, you can then seek to appeal by way of case stated from the Crown Court to the High Court. On the other hand, if you immediately appeal by way of case stated from the Magistrates' Court to the High Court, you lose the right to appeal to the Crown Court. Appealing by way of case stated against a decision made by the Crown Court on appeal is governed by section 28 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 and Part 35 of the Criminal Procedure Rules (see Further Information below).
HOW DOES A CASE STATED APPEAL DIFFER FROM AN APPLICATION FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW?
It is possible to seek a High Court Judicial Review (JR) of decisions of the Magistrates where it is alleged that the Magistrates or District Judge have made an error of law or have acted in a way that exceeds their powers. To this extent there is a considerable overlap between Case Stated and JR, except JR goes further and includes situations where it is suggested there has been unfairness, bias or the correct procedure has not been followed. Where a case can properly be pursued by way of case stated, then this is the route which should be followed. If not, the JR route can be used.
HOW DO I SEEK TO APPEAL BY WAY OF CASE STATED FROM THE MAGISTRATES’ COURT?
- The process begins by applying to the Magistrates to state a case for the opinion of the High Court and the procedure is contained in Part 35 of the Criminal Procedure Rules (see this and the form to be used in the Further Information section below). The application must be made in writing, not more than 21 days after the decision on which the appeal is based. The application sets out the decision complained about, the question(s) of law for the High Court to answer and sets out the grounds of appeal (i.e. the specific arguments advanced as to why the Magistrates or District Judge made an error of law or acted in excess of their powers). The application is served on the court and every other party involved in the case (e.g. if it is a defence application it must be served on the court, the prosecution and any other defendant). These other parties then have a right to reply within 14 days.
- The Magistrates or District Judge are entitled to refuse to state a case for the opinion of the High Court where they consider the application is 'frivolous' (i.e. futile, misconceived, hopeless or academic). It will be rare for this to happen, but where it does the aggrieved party can seek to challenge an unreasonable refusal to state a case by way of an application for Judicial Review.
- Once the Magistrates' Court agrees to state the case, the legal adviser to the Magistrates or the District Judge will formulate a draft case for the High Court which includes the decision complained of, the question(s) to be considered and a summary of the nature and history of the case, any relevant findings of fact that were made in the Magistrates' Court and a summary of the arguments put forward by the parties. This draft is then served on the parties before it is sent to the High Court (to allow further arguments to be made about its contents if required).
- If the application to state a case is against a decision made by the Crown Court on appeal, the procedure is the same except the application is served on the Crown Court rather than the Magistrates' Court. (This means the decision to state a case or to refuse to do so is made by a Crown Court judge and the draft case is formulated by the Crown Court judge rather than the Magistrates' legal adviser or the District Judge).
LEGAL ADVICE FOR APPEALS BY WAY OF CASE STATED
Appeals based on matters of law are often, by their nature, complex and require considerable research and careful drafting. Also, there are significant potential pitfalls if you launch an appeal which is legally flawed. Not only can a poor appeal hit you in the pocket by way of an order for costs (not just yours but the opposing side's costs too) but you can find yourself having a sentence increased. For these reasons it is important to obtain legal advice on the merits of your appeal before starting the appeal process. Many lawyers will be happy to advise you simply on this aspect of your case even if you do not want to instruct a lawyer to represent you at the appeal hearing itself.
Appeal by way of case stated from the Magistrates' Court is governed by sections 111 to 114 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980.
Appeal by way of case stated from a decision of the Crown Court on appeal is governed by section 28 of the Senior Courts Act 1981.
The powers of the High Court on an appeal by way of case stated are contained in section 28A of the Senior Courts Act 1981.
Case Stated procedure is contained in Part 35 of the Criminal Procedure Rules.
Form - Application to Magistrates' Court or Crown Court to state a case for an appeal to the High Court - click and scroll down to Part 35.
Service of documents is governed by Part 4 of the Criminal Procedure Rules.
Magistrates’ Court power to vary a sentence or direct a new trial in the interests of justice - section 142 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980.
Judicial Review Procedure - Part 54 of the Civil Procedure Rules and related matters.