I need information on Victims, Witnesses and Courts

Guide to the Criminal Justice system


There are three kinds of Criminal Courts:

  • Magistrates’ Court
  • Youth Court
  • Crown Court


Magistrates’ Courts

All criminal cases start in the Magistrates’ Courts and are completed here. They are heard by a panel of two or three lay Magistrates, also known as JPs (Justices of the Peace), who are independent of the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Many are volunteers from the community. A District Judge can also sit at a Magistrates’ Court and hear a case.

Offences dealt with at Magistrates’ Courts are those which carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a fine of up to £5,000. They include motoring offences and crimes such as relatively minor assaults.

Some offences, such as theft or handling stolen goods, which can be heard at either a Magistrates’ Court or a Crown Court.

Whilst serious offences like Murder, Manslaughter, Rape and Robbery must be heard at Crown Court, the Defendants will appear before Magistrates’ initially when decisions such as bail are made.

The following Magistrates’ Courts are in the Northumbria area:

  • Sunderland
  • South Tyneside
  • Gateshead
  • North Tyneside
  • Newcastle
  • Bedlington
  • Berwick


Youth Court

A Youth Court is a Magistrates’ Court established to deal with criminal proceedings against young people. They have specially trained Magistrates and cases are heard in private.

Crown Court

Crown Courts deal with serious criminal cases like Murder, Rape, Robbery, Fraud and serious Assaults. The cases are heard before a Judge and Jury, which consists of 12 people selected at random from the electoral register.

Witnesses will be called to give evidence in front of the Judge and Jury but, before this stage is reached, there may be a preliminary hearing without a Jury or Witnesses so that legal issues can be settled.

The Crown Court also hears Appeals against decisions made at the Magistrates’ Courts.

Northumbria’s Crown Court is on the Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne, where most of the region’s serious cases are heard. There is also a Crown Court in Durham and, sometimes, cases from Northumbria are heard there or at other Crown Courts outside of the region.



Magistrates and Judges will impose sentences after they have considered all of the facts of the offence and the circumstances of the offender.

Four levels of sentencing are available in the courts, depending on the seriousness of the offence:

  • Discharge
  • Fine
  • Community Sentence
  • Imprisonment


Victims at court

The CJS Agencies have obligations to ensure that victims of crime receive a minimum standard of service. This is to ensure that victims are at the heart of the service and their needs are taken into account at all stages.

Advice and help is available from many agencies and not just those within the CJS. A number of national and local voluntary agencies help people who have been victims of crime.

In Northumbria this service is provided by Victim’s First Northumbria 


Witnesses at court

Northumbria Police have a Court Liaison, who will provide you with information if you are asked to appear in court as a witness. This information will tell you what to expect, where to get advice and support and what happens before, during and after a court hearing.

You can be called as a witness to give evidence in court if you are the victim of a crime, you saw a crime being committed or can provide information to support the case.

Every court in Northumbria has a Witness Support Service. This service is run by Citizen Advice Bureau and helps witnesses, victims and their families before, during and after their court hearing.

They provide free and confidential support as well as practical information about attending court. For local contact details and more information, visit the Citizen Advice  website, which can be accessed using the link on this page.


Either the Court Liaison Unit or Victims First Northumbria will provide you with details of the Witness Support Service and you can arrange pre-trial visits with them as well as kept informed of the progress of the case whilst at court and of the final outcome. They can assist with any queries or requirements you may have regarding attendance at court.

You can find further information about being a victim at court at this link:



Dated: 20 Jul 2017