Magistrates - Explain the role that magistrates play in the criminal justice system

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(a) Explain the role that magistrates play in the criminal justice system

Magistrates are involved with many aspects of the criminal justice system and have lots of jobs to do. Criminal cases where the offence in summary or triable either way are heard by magistrates. Summary would be cases with minor offences such as speeding and drink driving, whilst triable either way are potentially more serious cases such as theft, burglary or ABH. Magistrates will listen to the case presented by the defence and prosecution, decide on the verdict and pass sentence. 3 magistrates will sit on every case.

A magistrate has sentencing restrictions and can give a maximum of 6 months prison, £5000 fine or 240 hours community punishment order per offence. A clerk will sit in court with the magistrates and provide legal information for the lay magistrates. A clerk is a paid professional and must have 5 years experience of being a barrister or solicitor to get appointed. A clerk can give legal advice but can’t be seen to influence the decision of the magistrates. In the case of R v Eccles a clerk was thought to have influenced the magistrates decision and a successful appeal was launched.

All summary cases are heard by magistrates. A triable either way case can be heard in a magistrate’s court or in the crown court if the offence is deemed too serious. A magistrate will conduct what is known as mode of trial hearings for either way cases, which is where they decide whether the case will be heard by magistrates or by judge and jury. If the offence is considered serious enough to require a harsher sentence than 6 months prison/£5000 fine, then it will be heard in the crown court. Also a magistrate can make a decision to go to a crown court if during a trial they think                6 months/£5000 fine is not a big enough sentence. Magistrates conduct committals for those cases that go on to the crown court.

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It is a magistrate’s job to decide on matters of bail and legal aid, for every case that goes to the crown court. Legal aid and bail are decided on by certain criteria, for example legal aid is given only if you stand to lose your reputation, and also depends on your income. Magistrates are involved with the police as they can extend detention time for questioning of a suspect after arrest. Magistrates can award extra time up to a maximum of 96 hours (in total), but valid reasons have to be given in order for the extension. Magistrates ...

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A good answer wholly directed at the question; setting out both how magistrates are appointed and commenting on the make-up of the bench nationally. Rating *****