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Lay magistrates rarely have any experience of the law before they are appointed

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Magistrates The office of Justices of the Peace was first established over 600 years ago with the Justices of the Peace Act 1361 and Justices of the Peace or Lay Magistrates are essential to our legal system and try (or least deal with in some respect) 93% of all criminal cases and also perform an important function with regard to some civil areas. The role of the magistrates can be listed as follows:- > Trying summary offences > Trying offences triable either way where the accused elects for summary trial > Holding committal proceedings where the offence is TEW and the accused elects for jury trial. > Issuing summons, issuing search warrants and warrants for arrest. > Dealing with applications for bail > Dealing with applications for legal aid in criminal cases > Dealing with applications for licences such as firearms and liquor > Dealing with certain domestic matters such as maintenance orders etc. > Trying offences committed by youths in the Youth Court. Appointment Lay magistrates are appointed by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs on behalf of the Crown on the advice of a local advisory committee. These committees may either approach people or you can apply to become a magistrate. ...read more.


before the case is finally dealt with. This does not tend to be the case with District Judges (Magistrate Court). ii) Bias towards the Police - a criticism often raised against the lay magistrates is that tend to believe the evidence produced by the police without any hesitation which may be unfair on the accused. iii) Magistrates are not representative of the Community - the classic definition of lay magistrate has long been believed to be that they are "middle aged, middle classed and middle minded", but is this true? > Back in 1948 a Royal Commission on JP's found that 75% of all magistrates came from the professional or middle classes. The latest research carried out shows that this is still the case today. > Research into the political background of our lay magistrates shows that from a survey of 218 magistrates - 91 (42%) voted Conservative, 56 (26%) Labour, 41 (19%) Lib Dem, 30 (13%) other. > Only 4% of our lay magistrates are below the age of 40. From the research figures above it does seem to indicate that the description of a magistrate is correct but the question really to be asked is, does it matter? ...read more.


> Provide the Local Advisory Committees with updated details of the social make up of the local community so that they might bear this in mind when selecting new magistrates to their bench. b) Better training The present training of magistrates is a fault as there is insufficient training to obtain the consistency required. At the moment the majority of the training is done on the job and so if you are trained by a strict bench you will tend to become the same. This provides consistency among a particular bench itself but leads to variations between benches. The way to overcome this would be to have more and wider training (i.e. nationwide) but this would be expensive. c) Clearer guidelines At the moment magistrates have very wide discretion when passing sentences and thus allows magistrates flexibility but also inconsistency. If magistrates were to be given tighter guidelines and less discretion this might improve consistency. d) Replace magistrates entirely with District Judges (Magistrates Court) Some have suggested the abolition of lay magistrates in favour of professional magistrates. This would have the advantage of improved consistency and more efficient trials, but would lose the participation of lay persons, the local knowledge of issues and the relative cheapness of the lay magistrate to the system. There would also be the practical problem of where would you find all of these professional judges. ...read more.

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