Describe the Role of Magistrates in Civil and Criminal Cases

Topics: Jury, Law, Judge Pages: 9 (3775 words) Published: March 18, 2012
Describe the role of magistrates in civil and criminal cases

A Lay- person in the context of a lay magistrate is a person with no legal qualifications or training in law. Their purpose is to provide experience of society and ensure that the common people’s values are represented when delivering a verdict. Most magistrates are lay magistrates and they are also referred to as justices of the peace. There are roughly 30,000 lay magistrates sitting on the bench and they usually sit in threes but section 49 of the crime and disorder act 1998 allows single magistrates to exercise certain powers when administering justice. All magistrates are appointed by the Lord Chancellor on the advice of the local advisory committees for each area. To become a Lay magistrate a person must be between the ages of 18 to 65 but this requirement has only recently come into place, with the requirement being dropped from 21 to 18 in 2003. A lay magistrate must have six key qualities to enable them to be appointed, these ensure that the magistrate is of sound mind and judgement. Most magistrates are nominated by groups such as trade unions but a person can nominate themselves to partake in the role. The maximum sentence a lay magistrate can give if up to 6 months imprisonment and a £5000 fine. Therefore there power is restricted enabling them to only deal with certain cases. It is said that magistrates are involved in 97% of cases whether this is in the pulmonary stages or the final sentencing; therefore it is clear to see that they play a vital role within the legal system. A lay magistrate’s role is mainly in the criminal courts. As Law explains that magistrates conduct summary trials-these are minor cases only dealt with within the magistrates courts, they also sentence defendants who plead of are found guilty and hold committal proceedings in indictable offences-these are offences of a serious nature and finally they deal with hybrid offences, when a defendant has asked to have his case heard in the crown court. They will also deal with cases such as bail applications, remand hearings and committal proceedings. They will be advised by a court clerk on the matters of the law and from this they are expected to make an informed decision and deliver an apt verdict and sentence. As explained before the magistrate can only sentence a person to the maximum of 6 months imprisonment and fine them up to £5000m pounds, but the criminal justice bill of 2002 had provisions to extend magistrates sentencing power to a year or up to 15 month, 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. 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. 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. 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...
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