Essential Magistrates’ Courts Law

Howard Riddle, Robert Zara


£19.95, Waterside Press


There are many handbooks to assist the practitioner and judge in the magistrates’ court, where all criminal cases begin and over 85% end.

This book does not attempt to be a comprehensive guide to law and procedure, but rather concentrates on the essentials of life in the magistrates’ court. These concern case management, disclosure, sentencing, common offences and common defences. The authors also manage (within 250 pages) to include a history of the court, some thoughts on recent developments and suggestions for future progress. It is readable and blissfully concise.

I must declare an interest. The authors are former colleagues, both of whom have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and this is transmitted from every page. 

There are some nuggets for every reader, however much we might think we know. For example, who knows that a defendant cannot give ‘no indication’ to an either-way or indictable-only charge? The proper procedure is a guilty or not-guilty plea, or silence. 

Equally, the test to enable a further application for bail after at most two have been made, is not a ‘change of circumstances’ but ‘new facts’. This is important, since there may not be the former, but there could be the latter, particularly if the defence advocate is only made aware of pre-existing information at a later stage in the proceedings.

The book makes an important point that the tribunal’s attention must be drawn to the good character of the defendant before a trial verdict is returned. So many advocates overlook this and do not appear to appreciate its importance in the court considering whether the prosecution has proved its case.

An excellent addition to the bookshelf at a modest price.

Adrian Lower is a district judge (magistrates’ courts)