A Guide to Being Charged with a Crime

Some investigations are concluded the day that they are questioned by police, but often they continue for several weeks or even months before decisions are made to charge a suspect.

People often contact us and tell us that they have been “charged with x or Y”. Often they haven’t been charged but they have been questioned by police.

You can be notified that you are being formally accused of a criminal offence in two ways:

1.       Formal charging process at the police station

a.       Followed by bail to attend The magistrates’  court four weeks later;

b.      Followed by a decision to detain to appear before the court the next day.

2.       Requisition by post (a type of summons this has become more commonly used recently ) to appear on a date set out in the letter.

Whether you have been charged or requisitioned, you will receive a sheet setting out the offences for which you have been charged. Some offences are a summary only, which meant that they can only be tried in the Magistrates’ court, the police have a six-month limit within which to bring these cases to court. Other offences which can be tried in both the Magistrates Court or Crown Court are not subject to the same time limits.

Do I have to turn up at Court?

If you have been charged you may have bail conditions. If you think the conditions are too strict, unnecessary or cause you difficulties, you can apply to the Magistrates court before the next listing for them to be varied or removed.

If you have been charged or requisitioned you must attend court as failure to do so without reasonable excuse may lead to the issuing of a warrant and a further charge for failing to appear which is punishable separately by fine or imprisonment.

In some circumstances, if requisitioned for a minor road traffic offence you may have an opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty by post but consult a lawyer if you are in any doubt as it may be risky to assume that you can do this by correspondence.

How to Prepare for court once charged /Requisitioned

Contact us immediately, we will advise on whether you are eligible for legal aid, arrange an appointment to help you to apply for legal aid which we need to do online.

If you are not eligible for legal aid or wish to pay for your defence privately we will discuss and provide an estimate of fees, but the accuracy of this estimate may often depend upon the nature of the evidence to be served at court.

We will discuss your version of the allegations that you face and write to the Crown Prosecution Service to request a copy of the papers in your case.

These papers may not always be provided to us in advance of the first court hearing and if they are they may only contain a summary of the allegation and not as much information we would wish for, we may not even receive copies of the statements of the witnesses who make the allegations.

Overnight Custody

If you are a family member has been detained by police to attend court the next day, contact a solicitor immediately to provide details. Our phones are staffed 24 hours for such urgent matters. We will arrange for a solicitor to attend the next day in order to apply for bail.

At Court

It is important to arrive on time so as to avoid being prosecuted for failing to attend court on time.

Before going to court there will be time to discuss the evidence if this has not already taken place prior to the actual day.

In court you will be asked to identify yourself and whether you wish to indicate a plea of guilty or not guilty.


Guilty Pleas

By pleading guilty you are admitting guilt. This will lead to the decision being made on sentence, whether to sentence immediately, to ask probation for reports or, in more serious cases, to send to The Crown Court for sentence.Often people assume the term sentence mean “imprisonment “, it can mean a whole range of sanctions from fine, to unpaid work through to prison.


Not Guilty Pleas

You will be told that you will be entitled to “credit” and a reduced sentence for pleading guilty, but this shouldn’t be allowed to cause you to feel pressured into pleading guilty.

If you plead not guilty, your case will be adjourned for a trial, requiring you to return to court at a later date for the witnesses to give evidence in the case. In the intervening period, the prosecution will have to provide us with the rest of the evidence that they rely on.

In certain cases you will have the option to choose to be tried in the Crown Court, or The Magistrate’s may direct that the case is too serious to be tried in the Magistrates Court and Send it up to the Crown Court for trial. Certain charges are known as “indictable only“ and can only be tried in the Crown Court and no one has the right to decide.

Once a case had been sent to The Crown Court you will be given a date to appear for a “ Plea and Trial Management Hearing “, usually about four weeks later and this is when your eventual trial date is fixed.


If you have any questions about being charged with a crime, please call us on 0207 837 3456.