Part-time judges in the Magistrates Court.

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Criminal Justice Process_Module Code:CR1000_ November 14th, 2005

Do the lay magistracy have a legitimate role in the administration of justice?

There are about over 30,000 sitting as part-time judges in the Magistrates Court. They sit to hear cases as a bench of two or three, while a single magistrate could issue search warrants and arrest warrants. There are also District Judges (formerly Stipendiary Magistrates) who are qualified lawyers and sit on their own to deal with the cases. The history of magistrates goes back to the 12th Century and they have been a very important part of the criminal justice system. The important things to remember is that magistrates are lay people i.e. the majority are legally unqualified, must be between the ages of 18 and 65 and generally be of good character and judgement.

Lay magistrates do not have to have any qualifications in law. There are however, some requirements as to their character, in that they must be suitable in character, integrity & understanding for the work they have to perform. Lay magistrates must live within the commission area of the court or within fifteen miles of the boundary of that area. They will have to give a commitment that they will sit in a court a minimum of 26 times per year and that they will do the necessary training. Approximately, 500 new magistrates are appointed each year. People in the community who want to become lay magistrates can also reply to advertisements or otherwise be selected after a recommendation because of their contribution to the local community. Local selection committees consider the gender, ethnic origin, occupation and political view of local magistrates; one of their aims is to keep a balance of different people on the bench.

Magistrates do decide the guilt of innocence of the defendant, but in addition, they also decide the sentence. This in effect gives them more powers than a professional judge. However, the maximum they can give is up to 6 months in jail (or 12 months if two or more counts) and/or up to a £5,000 fine, and there is always a right of appeal against sentence or conviction if they get it wrong. About 90% of their court work is criminal and 10% is civil. They actually deal with about 97% of all criminal cases, which shows their importance to the system. Single magistrates deal the remaining 3% of cases that are too serious for them, such as murder, rape, manslaughter etc. Theses are Early Administrative Hearings or committal proceedings, and the decide bail applications and whether the defendant should be refused bail and instead are put on remand until his/her case comes up in the Crown Court before a jury.

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Criminal cases are tried in either the Magistrates Court or Crown Court. For criminal cases, the magistrates have a jurisdiction in a variety of matters and they try summary or minor offences such as shoplifting, minor assaults, driving offences etc and they are increasingly having to deal with triable either way offences, which cover theft, assault etc. because more pressure is being put on magistrates to do so rather than allow the defendant to elect a Crown Court jury instead. The further trials take place at the Magistrates Court where, the plea before venue and mode of trial is decided. ...

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A good summary of the key points. However, the description and evaluation feel a little disjointed. Reference could also be made to the variable nature of training, inconsistency in sentencing and over-reliance on the clerk. There has also been found to be a prosecution bias. 3 Stars.