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Could The English Legal System Function Without Lay Magistrates?

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Introduction

Jonathan Dryden Could The English Legal System Function Without Lay Magistrates? Lay magistrates are unqualified, part-time and unpaid, yet they deal with the vast majority of cases in the legal system. They do not hear cases on their own but sit as a bench or panel of two or three magistrates. The use of such unqualified judges is open to criticism. The role of magistrates is that they are expected to deal with a wide variety of cases. Their main work is trying minor criminal cases, but they also have some civil functions, e.g. hearing applications for licenses to sell alcohol and dealing with community debts such a non-payment of the community charge. They also deal with domestic jurisdiction such as adoption, divorce etc. There are two types of magistrate - lay and stipendiary. ...read more.

Middle

Because Lay magistrates are just average, but professional people such as teachers, doctors etc. it is an advantage because they can see what goes on in their community and so are more in touch with realistic issues, this also pleases public opinion of magistrates. Improved training means that lay magistrates are not complete 'amateurs'. New magistrates are given about 40 hours of training spread over the first three years. This consists of: * Observing court proceedings and learning 'on the job' * Attending lectures and workshops * Visiting penal institutions The training is not meant to make magistrates proficient in the law, but to give them an understanding of their duties. A major part of the training is aimed at sentencing. Magistrates on the Youth panel and the Family panel receive extra training for this. ...read more.

Conclusion

Cases are dealt with relatively quick which helps prevent backlog. There are few appeals from magistrate's decisions. There are also many disadvantages of using lay magistrates. Lay magistrates tend to be middle-class, middle-aged and middle minded and will have little in common with the young working class defendants who make up the majority of defendants. Both working-class and ethnic minorities are under-represented. The training that magistrates receive is also inadequate for the workload. A major criticism of lay magistrates is that they tend to be prosecution biased, believing the police too readily. They only acquit about 25% of cases and some magistrates may rely too heavily on their clerk. There is inconsistency in sentencing and in the granting of bail and the workload is becoming too great and complicated especially in the family court. ...read more.

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