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Her Majesty's Crown Court is, together with the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal, one of the constituent parts of the Supreme Court of Judicature in England and Wales. It is the higher court of first instance in criminal cases, and is equal in stature to the High Court, which hears civil cases as well as criminal appeals from the magistrates' courts. Appeal from the Crown Court lies to the criminal division of the Court of Appeal and thence to the House of Lords. See also Courts of England and Wales.
The Crown Court was established in 1972 by the Courts Act to replace the courts of Assize and Quarter Sessions. The Crown Court is a permanent unitary court across England and Wales, whereas the Assizes were periodic local courts heard before judges of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, who travelled across the seven circuits into which England and Wales were divided, assembling juries in the Assize Towns and hearing cases. The Quarter Sessions were local courts assembled four times a year to dispose of criminal cases which were not serious enough to go before a High Court judge.
The Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey is part of the Crown Court, and is the main criminal court in the capital.
A Crown Court and a County Court may be located in the same building and use the same jurors.
At the front of the court, on a raised platform, is a large bench. This is where the judge sits. His or her rank can be distinguished by the colour of gown he (for convenience of expression to include "she" - the majority of Crown Court judges are male) wears, and different forms of address are appropriate for different ranks of judge, with "your honour" being the most common. The judge enters from a door at the side of the platform, preceded by a cry of "all rise" from the clerk of the court who sits below and in front of the judge's bench. Everyone in the court is expected to show their respect for the judge by standing as he enters and until he sits down. Often these days he will have a computer (probably a laptop) although he will be writing down his record of the evidence longhand in a notebook in front of him. Witnesses and barristers may have to pause frequently to enable him to do this, and may have to repeat their remarks two or three times until he has got them.
The clerk of the court, who sits facing the court (that is, the same way as the judge) has a smaller desk on which sits a telephone, which gets muttered into from time to time when communication is necessary with other parts of the court complex (for example the jury assembly area). From time to time the clerk will address the jury or the foreman of the jury.
Also in the area just in front of the judge's bench is the sound recordist. Proceedings will be recorded on a double deck cassette recorder with one tape or the other being changed at intervals. This record may be used if the case later goes to appeal.
Additionally there may be a typist who also records proceedings on a special machine by typing keys as the witnesses speak.
Facing the clerk will be the usher. If papers or other objects need to be passed around the court, for example notes from members of the jury, or evidence being shown to the jury, normally the usher will do this and will be the only person in the court to walk around while the court is in session.
Behind the usher, wearing black gowns and large white wigs and facing the judge, will be the prosecuting and defending barristers. The defending barrister will always be nearest the jury. These days they will also be likely to have laptop computers in addition to files of papers relating to the case which will be on the desk in front of them. Unlike the judge who speaks sitting down, the barristers always stand to address the court, although quite often they will lean on items of furniture (such as a desktop podium in front of them) while they are speaking, especially if they are elderly.
Behind the barristers will sit the instructing solicitors, which in the case of the prosecution will be a representative of the crown prosecution service. They will also have files relating to the case, and probably laptop computers, and once in a while there may be a whispered exchange between the solicitor and the relevant barrister.
At the back of the courtroom, behind the barristers, is a semi-partitioned area known as the dock. This is where the defendant or defendants sit (now and then being asked to stand). A custody officer will be sitting in the dock near them.
Alongside the defending barrister is the jury box. This is where the jury watch the case from. They will be called to it from the jury waiting area (benches next to it) to be sworn. Once sworn they always sit in the same seat throughout the trial. If proceedings (such as legal argument about the admissibility of evidence) take place which they are not supposed to see occur, the usher will escort them into a room just outside the courtroom (probably behind the dock). Only jurors and ushers ever enter this room.
Opposite the jury box is the witness stand. Witnesses stand facing the jury (they can sit down if they wish but are likely to be warned not to drop their voices) and give their evidence so the jury can watch their demeanor while giving it, which might help them decide if the witness is being truthful.
When the judge sends the jury to consider their verdict, the usher escorts them to a small suite consisting of a large table, 12 chairs, WCs, paper and pencils, a button to call the usher with and prominent notices about not revealing deliberations to anyone else. The usher withdraws, and when the jury have arrived at a verdict, they push the button.
During deliberations only limited contact is permitted with the outside world, always via the usher. The jury will be permitted only (a) to call for refreshments, (b) to pass a note to the judge, perhaps asking for further guidance, or (c) to announce that they have reached a verdict. The judge may decide to recall them to the court to address them again at any time.
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