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Explain the selection, training and role of Magistrates in the English legal system.

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Introduction

Explain the selection, training and role of Magistrates in the English legal system. Lay magistrates are unqualified, part-time and unpaid profesionals who are chosen to serve in the magistrates court, 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 other magistrates. The use of such unqualified people to judge cases is open to criticism. Magistrates sit in a magistrates court, usually in a bench of three. The role of magistrates is to deal with a wide variety of cases. Their main work is trying minor criminal cases, but they also have some civil functions. They hear 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 and divorce. They also have bail hearings, issue warrants and commit indictable offences, such as GBH to the Crown court. All criminal offences begin in the magistrates court, 97% of all cases are tried in this court. This shows that most offences in the country are petty crimes. The magistrates court has the power to give 12 month sentence and a fine up to �5000 to defendents and they also have some civil responsibilities such as enforcement of council tax debts. They have some work in the family courts panel, relating to breakdown of marriages. They are responsible for granting licenses on alcohol, gambling and entertainment. Some courts specialise in the Youth court, were magistrates tri offenders aged 10-17 and protection orders in the Family Court. Lay magistrates provide a broad cross-section of society in the justice system and promote fairness in the justice system. They are said to be the backbone of the English Legal System. The majority of magistrates are middle-aged Tory voters, though 49% of these are women. They are people with local knowledge and so act in the interests of justice with this. ...read more.

Middle

They are people with local knowledge and so act in the interests of justice with this. The lay magistrates are not legally qualified but do a good job, as 1.5 million cases were dealt with in 1998, only 16,000 were subject to appeal to the Crown court against a sentence or conviction. They are free and so provide the cheapest labour to the justice system. If they were replaced with full-time magistrates it would cost an extra �100 million a year. There are many advantages of using lay magistrates some of these are the fact that the system involves members of the community and provides a wider cross-section on the bench than would be possible with the use of professional judges. Also because lay magistrates are just average, but professional people such as teachers or doctors. 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 the public opinion of magistrates. There are very few appeals from magistrate's decisions. However with the advantages are also many disadvantages. Lay magistrates tend to be middle-class, middle-aged and middle minded and will have very 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. 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 which is available to give advice. Every bench is assisted by a clerk. The main duty is to guide the magistrates on questions of law, practice and procedure. The clerk should not assist in the decision-making. Clerks have been given increased power to deal with routine matters at early administrative hearings. The lay magistrates are not legally qualified, they can be taxi drivers or teachers. ...read more.

Conclusion

They must have lived within this area for at least 12 months. There are other points to meet, such as the age limit of 21-65. However it is unlikely to be chosen as a lay magistrate until the age of 27. The person must also be able to sit for long periods of time and so must be healthy enough to fulfil their duties. The final criteria is that the person must be able to sit for at least 26 times, usually each time consists of half of a day and so must be able to sit for 13 days. A person may be disqualified from being a lay magistrate if they have a certain job or issue. If they work for, or a close family member, works for the justice system, then they cannot be a lay magistrate. If they are an undischarged bankrupt or member of the forces, then they are also removed. You may also be disqualified if you are an MP or traffic warden. Magistrates nower days recive some sort of training but not much. 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 and 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. However the training of the magistrates has been criticised to be inadequate for the workload the receive. The variations in the sentences given according to locality have been subject to questions. The magistrates were found to be inconsistent with their sentences. In 1990 it was found that you were twice as likely to go to prison in Greater Manchester than in Merseyside. This just shows that magistrates arnt the most fairest way to tri defendents. ...read more.

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