Appealing Against a Magistrates' Court Conviction

Appealing a Magistrates Court Conviction

"If you feel you have been wrongly found guilty in the Magistrates’ Court you can appeal against your conviction to the Crown Court within 21 days of your sentence" 

If you feel you have been wrongly found guilty in the Magistrates’ Court you can appeal against your conviction to the Crown Court within 21 days of your sentence. 

You may feel, for example, that the Magistrates or District Judge who heard your trial have simply got it wrong and believed the wrong witnesses; you might consider that evidence has been allowed in that should have been excluded, or that evidence was not permitted that should have been (and could have made a difference); you might have now discovered evidence that you wish the court had been aware of; you might feel that the way the law was interpreted in your case was wrong; or you may think that problems occurred during the trial that made the whole process unfair. 

Every case is unique, but whatever the precise problem in your case, if you have been convicted in the Magistrates’ Court you are entitled to appeal against your conviction to the Crown Court.

What happens at an appeal against conviction to the Crown Court?

"An appeal to the Crown Court against a conviction in the Magistrates’ Court is a complete re-hearing of the case"

An appeal to the Crown Court against a conviction in the Magistrates’ Court is a complete re-hearing of the case, so the whole trial is heard again. This follows the same format as a Magistrates’ Court trial, so click the link if you want to know what is involved. 

On appeal there is not a careful examination of what went wrong in the Magistrates’ Court. Instead the trial is simply heard again. Both the prosecution and defence present their evidence and they are entitled to call more or less witnesses should they choose to do so (although mention can be made of any difference between what a witness says during the appeal at the Crown Court and what was said by that witness previously at the Magistrates’ Court trial).

Who will hear my appeal against conviction in the Crown Court?

Even though the case is heard at the Crown Court, no jury is involved. The case is identical to a trial in the Magistrates’ Court except that it is heard in a courtroom within the Crown Court and it is heard by a judge (usually a Circuit Judge or Recorder) sitting with two magistrates. The magistrates will not have previously been involved in the case. The majority vote prevails meaning it is possible for the magistrates to outvote the judge.

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What powers does the Crown Court have when dealing with an appeal against conviction?

The Crown Court can allow the appeal (meaning the verdict will be Not Guilty) or dismiss the appeal (meaning the original verdict is confirmed). The court will give reasons for allowing or dismissing an appeal against conviction.

If the appeal is dismissed the court also has the power to change the sentence, even if there was only an appeal against conviction and not specifically against sentence. This means the court can increase the sentence. This is one clear reason why it is a very good idea to get legal advice before seeking to appeal against conviction. If the court does increase the sentence, it can only do so within the maximum sentencing powers that were available to the Magistrates’ Court.  You can read more here about maximum sentences.

A defendant who loses on appeal (i.e. the appeal is dismissed) is likely to face an application by the prosecution for the costs of the appeal. This will be in addition to any costs awarded at the Magistrates’ Court. An appellant who succeeds on appeal can apply to recover his costs, but the amount recoverable will seldom cover actual expenditure.

The powers of the Crown Court on appeal are contained in section 48(2) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (see Further Information below). 

Is appeal against conviction to the Crown Court my only option?

No, there may be other potential routes open to you. These include:

Re-opening a Case

First, s.142(2) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 permits the Magistrates’ Court to direct that a defendant can have a trial heard again by another District Judge or Magistrates if it appears to the court that it would be in the interests of justice to do so.  What is in the interests of justice will differ from case to case, but there will have to be a cogent basis to argue that a trial should be heard again.  It will never be sufficient to argue, without more, that you did not like the result and want another judge/bench of magistrates to hear the case; however, you can achieve precisely this by appealing against your conviction to the Crown Court.  Section 142 could potentially be used where you have missed your trial but have a good reason why, or where both the prosecution and defence agree that a legal error occurred in the first trial.

Case Stated

"Appeals by way of case stated are for cases based upon legal arguments where there is no factual dispute"

Secondly, there is another route of appeal against a Magistrates’ Court conviction available which is called appeal by way of case stated. This type of appeal is to the Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court. Such appeals are for cases based upon legal arguments where there is no factual dispute. Cases which require an assessment of facts (i.e. which witnesses are considered reliable and which are not) are not suitable for this type of appeal.

Bear in mind that if you appeal by way of stated you will lose your right of appeal to the Crown Court, whereas if you appeal to the Crown Court you can still seek to appeal by way of case stated from the Crown Court to the Divisional Court. You can read more about appeal by way of case stated here and in the Further Information section below. 

Criminal Cases Review Commission

"where you have exhausted all avenues of appeal open to you the Criminal Cases Review Commission may be able to assist"

Thirdly, where you have exhausted all avenues of appeal open to you the Criminal Cases Review Commission may be able to assist. The CCRC may refer a case to the Crown Court for appeal where it considers: 

(a) there is a real possibility that the Crown Court will quash the original conviction; and
(b) this real possibility is due to evidence or arguments not previously advanced at the previous appeal(s) (unless there are exceptional circumstances); and
(c) the applicant has already unsuccessfully appealed (unless there are exceptional circumstances).

How do I appeal against conviction from the Magistrates’ Court to the Crown Court?

An appeal against conviction from the Magistrates’ Court to the Crown Court is a relatively simple process. A Notice of Appeal (see the Further Information section below for a copy of this) must be completed and served on the Magistrates’ Court and the prosecution within 21 days of the date of your sentence. If you are outside the 21 day time limit you must explain why on the form and an extension of time can be granted if there is a good reason for the delay.

On the Notice of Appeal you can also tick if you wish to apply for suspension of any disqualification (such as a driving disqualification) pending the appeal being heard. If you have been sentenced to a custodial sentence, you can also tick a box stating that you wish to apply for bail pending the appeal being heard. These applications can be made to the Magistrates' Court and/or to the Crown Court.  For example, if your bail application is refused by the Magistrates you can then apply to the Crown Court, or you can apply direct to the Crown Court without applying to the Magistrates.

Can I appeal against conviction and sentence?

Yes.  On the appeal notice you can specifically mention that you wish to appeal against both conviction and sentence.  Remember that even if you do not choose to appeal against your sentence, should the court dismiss your appeal it has the power to change sentence (and this can include increasing it). You can read more here about appealing against sentence from the Magistrates’ Court to the Crown Court.

Get legal Advice

There are significant potential pitfalls if you launch an appeal which in fact has no merit. Not only can a poor appeal hit you in the pocket by way of an order for costs (not just yours but the prosecution’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. 


Further Information