Criminal and Civil Court Structures

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Legal Institution and Methods:
Criminal and Civil Court Structures and Legal Personnel

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Introduction

This assignment will discuss and compare the court structure, legal personnel and their functions and the type of cases that are brought before criminal and civil courts.

Criminal courts

The criminal court system has many levels of superiority (refer to diagram 1.1 in Appendices). Lower courts are bound by all superior court decisions within the hierarchy. The Magistrates court is the lowest court in the criminal system; they do not create binding precedence and therefore are not bound by their previous decisions (Book1). The Magistrates Court is usually the first point of contact for approximately 97% of all summary offence cases, such as motoring offences, minor assault and low value criminal damage. The maximum fine that the Magistrates can impose is £5000 and/or 6 months imprisonment for a single offence. The Crown Court has much more authority and sentencing powers as they tend to concern themselves with more serious cases, which need a great deal more legal knowledge. The maximum sentence that can be imposed by the Crown Court is life imprisonment and there is no limit to the amount that they can fine an individual/organisation.

The Legal personnel present in the Magistrates court are the lay magistrates. Lay magistrates are appointed by the Lord Chancellor on behalf of the crown. The local advisory committee for the area advises the chancellor on the candidates for magistrates, to enable him to make a decision. Lay people are not paid for the work they do, as the position is on a voluntary basis and they only receive a small loss of earnings allowance and their expenses. Magistrates do not have much, if any legal experience or knowledge. The only criteria they must meet are six qualities that define their suitability (book1). Although they are not legally qualified they are still referred to in court as ‘your worship’ as they hold a position of authority. The Magistrates sit at the front of the Court on a raised Bench to show their authority. The legal advisor is a professionally trained person within the law profession, who resides in the Magistrate’s Court, to advise the lay people on the relevant points of law in accordance with the case. However, the magistrates are not compelled to take the advice of their advisor but as he/she is the only professionally trained body that they have on hand to advise them, the advisors points frequently hold considerable weight.

The court Clerk is present for the majority of the court proceedings in all courts. They sit in front of the judge’s bench (generally next to the legal advisor) and assist the judge by handling the administration of the court operations. They organise all the paper work from both parties of the case, in order to save time and confusion. They can also issue releases and warrants if necessary. The court clerk is usually the only person who may exchange messages and information between the jury and the judge. Occasionally, it may be the job of the court Clerk to handle any video links from outside the court.

The Court Usher generally sits either at the side of the public gallery and close to the main entrance of the court or directly in front of the judges bench. The main role of the Usher is to ensure that the courtroom runs smoothly and efficiently by informing the Clerk of any problems that may arise. The Usher will announce each case to the judge and then call for the defendant to the dock and notify the court of who is representing the defendant (http://www.ukcle.ac.uk/resources/teaching-and-learning-practices/characters/#usher). The Usher swears in the Witnesses and jurors and also performs various administrative tasks through the court proceedings. Whilst the judge is given his judgement the Usher will stand inside the...
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