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Glossary

  • Case law – Law created by judges’ decisions in individual cases.
  • Crown Court – The Crown Court deals with the more serious criminal offences including murder and rape and cases sent or appealed from the magistrates’ court.
  • Determinate sentence – The court will set the length of the sentence imposed, for example four years’ imprisonment. An offender sentenced to a determinate sentence will normally be automatically released after serving half their sentence.
  • Home Detention Curfew – Offenders serving sentences between three months and less than four years may be eligible to be released on home detention curfew up to 135 days before their automatic release date. Certain offenders are not eligible including violent and sexual offenders. The offender will be tagged and a curfew imposed.
  • Indeterminate sentence – The court will set the minimum term that the offender must serve in prison which must be served in full before he becomes eligible for consideration to be released. Once this period has been served the offender will only be released when the Parole Board is satisfied that the offender is safe to be released. If released, an offender will be on licence and supervised by the probation service.
  • Judiciary – The name give to the judges, magistrates and tribunal members who deal with legal matters in England and Wales.
  • Lord Chief Justice – Head of the Judiciary and President of the Courts in England and Wales. The Lord Chief Justice is also president of the Sentencing Council.
  • Magistrate – Also known as Justices of the Peace (JPs). Magistrates are volunteers, aged between 18 and 70, who need have no legal qualifications. They are given training and sit in the magistrates’ court as a bench of three, assisted by a legal advisor. Magistrates hear 95 per cent of all criminal cases in England and Wales.
  • Magistrates’ Court – Nearly all criminal cases will start in the magistrates’ court. There are 350 magistrates’ courts in England and Wales and they deal with almost 2 million cases every year.
  • Open Court – the majority of hearings in courts in England and Wales are held in open court whereby the court is open to the public to go and watch. Some sensitive cases are heard in private, known as ‘in camera’.
  • Pre-sentence report – A report, generally prepared by the probation service to assist the court in determining the most suitable way of dealing with an offender. It should include an assessment of the nature and seriousness of the offence and the impact on the victim. A court is required to obtain a pre-sentence report before imposing a community or custodial sentence.
  • Victim personal statement – This is a statement written by the victim explaining the effect the crime has had on them, any concerns they have and indicating any support that they need. Making a victim impact statement is optional.
  • Whole life order – In murder cases, if the court decides that the offence is so serious that the offender should spend the rest of their life in prison they may impose a whole life order. The offender will never be eligible for release.
  • Young offender – An offender aged 10 or over but under 18.
  • Youth Court – The Youth Court is part of the magistrates’ court and deals with almost all cases of offenders aged under 18. Youth courts are generally private and members of the public are not allowed in.
  • Youth Justice Board – The Youth Justice Board oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales and works to prevent offending and reoffending by young people under 18 and to ensure that custody is safe, secure and addresses the causes of their offending behaviour.