Visiting the courts

  • Last updated 01-Aug-2016 15:22:58
  • By Jennivive Maynard, BPTC graduate

Visiting the courts is one of the most important things that aspiring solicitors and barristers can do.

When I was an LLB student, I always found going to the Magistrates’ Courts and Crown Courts very exciting. I loved observing the matters of law and how they were applied in the case and I always tried to predict the verdict that the defendant was going to be given.  

But now, as a BPTC graduate, I go to court to do more than just view cases. I go to develop my understanding of the matters of procedure involved in cases and how these influence the outcome of a case.

For instance in a burglary case where the accused is an adult and has pleaded guilty, there are many factors which determine the likely sentence the accused will get. These factors are divided into mitigating factors and aggravating factors.

Mitigating factors include:

  • a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity;
  • genuine remorse;
  • no forcible entry into the dwelling;
  • the burglary was unplanned;
  • the property was of low monetary value;
  • the stolen property was recovered;
  • and the accused has no previous convictions.

Aggravating factors in a burglary case include:

  • property stolen which was of high monetary value;
  • there was an occupier in the home at the time of the burglary;
  • the psychological effect of the offence on the victim;
  • criminal damage caused to the property;
  • the accused is currently being charged for other offences;
  • and the accused has previous convictions for burglary or any other theft related offences.

If the majority of factors fall within the first category, it is highly probable that the accused will be subject to a conditional discharge or a fine. If the accused has factors which fall within both categories, the court will probably consider a community sentence. Community sentences include unpaid work requirements, curfew requirements and supervision requirements. Before the court could grant a community sentence, they must be satisfied that the offence (on its own or when looked at with other offences) are “serious enough to warrant such a sentence.”

The court is more likely to grant a custodial sentence if the majority of factors surrounding the burglary and the accused fall within the second category. Before the court grants a custodial sentence, they must be satisfied that the offence (on its own or when looked at with other offences) is “so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence.” As the offence is burglary, the accused could be liable to imprisonment of up to 14 years. Any mitigating factors will determine the length of the sentence.

Concluding, there is an awful lot that can be learnt by visiting the courts. Court visits impart an insight into what goes on every day in the legal justice system, giving you the chance to see advocates in practice. Most importantly, it will help you decide whether or not a legal career is the thing that you wish to pursue.

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