Role of Magistrates & Jury in England & Wales

Topics: Judge, Jury, Law Pages: 5 (1966 words) Published: April 19, 2013
This essay will discuss the role of the magistrate and jury in the English and Welsh legal decision-making process. It will assess both the advantages and disadvantages of both mechanisms and give an opinion on the contribution they make in the process. The role of a lay magistrate is one that is at the core of the legal system in England & Wales. They help maintain the foundation of the criminal justice system and deal with approximately 98% of all criminal matters. The sheer volume of cases that they deal with has helped earned them the title of the workhorses of the criminal justice system. A magistrate forms part of the judiciary however they are unique in the sense that they do not get paid. Even though magistrates do not get paid it is crucial that they are of good standing in the community to ensure an element of respect and a comprehension of what is right and wrong. The Lord Chancellor is tasked with the role of appointing magistrates on the advice of a local advisory committee. These committees are made up of existing magistrates and people in the prospective magistrates’ local area. It is seen as important to draw magistrates from local areas to be representative of the local community. Once appointed they are expected to sit for a minimum of 26 half days per year but it is frowned upon to do any more than 1 sitting per week for fear of ‘case hardening’. To start with all magistrates sit in the adult court but after gaining experience they may choose to apply to sit in the youth court or family proceedings court, and if successful undertake specialised training. Magistrates’ courts consist of a ‘bench’ of three magistrates with one who has been trained to take the chair. They are provided with training but it is not necessary to have any legal qualifications before becoming appointed as a magistrate. Due to the lack of legal expertise the bench benefits from the use of a court clerk who is required to have legal qualifications before taking the post. The clerk’s role is strictly advisory and they are not permitted to give their opinion toward guilt or innocence of the defendant. If someone is charged with a crime they will first go to a magistrates’ court. The magistrate must determine whether the offence is indictable, summary or triable either way. The category of offence brings with it different levels of punishment. A magistrate has limited sentencing power and can only impose fines of up to £5,000 for private individuals or £20,000 if a business is involved, community service and prison sentences of up to 6months if for one offence, extended to 12months if for more than one offence. The sentencing power of the magistrate means that they have the authority to deal with only summary offences and triable either way offences. Indictable offences are offences which are more serious in nature such as rape and murder and therefore require harsher sentencing. These cases would be sent to the Crown Court. Magistrates mainly deal with summary offences of which there are hundreds. If an offence is deemed to be triable either way the defendant is given the choice as to whether they want to be tried by the magistrates or at crown court which utilises a jury to decide upon guilt or innocence. As with any system the magistrate comes with its advantages and disadvantages. To assess its advantages, disadvantages can be equally juxtaposed alongside it. One major advantage of the magistrate, particularly in today’s current economic climate, is that the position is voluntary and therefore unpaid. The saving would equate to millions of pounds to the economy every year. The downfall to this may be that a magistrate may also have to maintain another career alongside in order to make a living. A criticism of this could mean that a magistrate is not entirely dedicated to the calling. The voluntary aspect of the position may also account for the reasoning as to why legal qualifications are not a...
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