Criminal Courts and Lay people


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Different Types of Courts

Summary Cases = Magistrates

Triable Either-Way cases = They can choose either Magistrates or Crown Court.

Indictable = Always start at the Magistrates court and then the Crown Court.

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- Over 400 magistrates courts in England and Wales - almost one in every town, big cities have several - deal with offences committed in that area.

- Cases are heard by 3 magistrates - inqualified lay people or a district judge, also a qualified clerk assists the magistrates.

-The magistrates try all Summary Offences and then after deciding if they have jurisdiction, they will hear all triable either-way cases when the defendant chooses to be heard at the magistrates court. They hear 97% of all criminal cases.

1) Deal with preiminary hearings of any triable either-way case if beng heard in Crown Court.                                                                                                                 2) Deal with 1st preliminary hearing of all indictable offences.                                       3) Deal with side matters connected to criminal cases e.g. warrants for arrest and deciding bail applications                                                                                                4) Youth court defendant 10-17 inclusive.

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Appeal from Magistrates

MAGISTRATES COURT =2 options for appeal!

1) Go to the Crown Court (only used by defence) = if defendant please 'not gulity', can appeal against conviction or sentence, but if defendant pleads 'guilty', can only appeal against sentence. At the crown court case is reheard by a judge and 2 magistrates. They can confirm magistrates' court decision and can also change it if they want to.

2) Go to the Queens Bench Division of Divisional Court (can be used by prosecution or defence) = here they argue that magistrates' made a mistake about the law and they appeal the point of law. The appeal is heard by 2/3 High Court judges, they can 1) confirm decision, 2) can very the decision or 3) can remit and send the appeal back.

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Magistrates Qualities

- Over 29'000 lay magistrates sitting as part-time judges in the magistrates' court = also known as Justice of the Peace (JP). They sit in a bench of 3. Magistrates can issue search and arrest warrants alone. Also district judges may sit alone in a magistrates court as they are qualified lawyers.

Qualities -                                                                                                              1)Good character,                                                                                                          2)Understanding and communication                                                                              3)Social awareness,                                                                                            4)Maturity and sound temperament,                                                                    5)Sound judgement,                                                                                        6)Commitment and reliability.                                                                                                                       

These qualities were set up by Lord Chancellor in 1998.

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How magistrates become 'qualified'

- 6 qualities plus 'judicial' qualities: must be able to take factual information, be able to reach a reasoned decision, they must be able to take the reasoning of others and they must be able to work as a team.

They must be -

1)Aged 18-65 on appointment - usually people under 27 are not appointed as they don't have enough experience - been 18 since 2003.                                                     2)In 2004 - one 21 year old was appointed in Shropshire and one 23 year old in West Yorkshire. Statistics for 2009 = 4% of mags were under 40.

Area -

1)One commission area for the whole of England and Wales - changed in 2003.          2)Country is divided into local justice areas - Lord Chancellor and lay magistrates must live or work near the area.

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Commitment -

1)Must commit themselves to 26 half days per year. - this commitment deters people from becoming magistrates.

Restrictions - Some people aren't eligible:

1)Serious criminal conviction,                                                                                       2)Bankrupts,                                                                                                                  3)Those in the forces,                                                                                                   4)Those whose work is incompatible - police, traffic wardens. Also the relatives of these people cannot be a magistrate.                                                                       5)Those whose hearing is impaired.                                                                        6)People who can't carry out all the duties.

Also, close relatives will not be appointed to the same bench.

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-Appointments are made by Lord Chancellor under the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 on advice of the Local Advisory Committee (LAC).

Selection -                                                                                                       1)Nomination - by applicant, or another person.,                                           2)Somtimes there are adverts in the newspaper,                                                         3)Application form - Sent to LAC.                                                                                 4)LAC checks forms.                                                                                                   5)2 interviews - to judge character and inpartiality.                                                  6)No extreme political views - test this by looking at legal issues.                               7) Names will be recommended to Lord Chancellor, who appoints them. The chose magistrates are then 'sworn-in' by a circuit judge. 

Training - organised by the Judicial Studies Board. - the training has become intensified since 1998. Experienced magistrates act as mentors to support new magistrates - under the Magistrates National Training Initiative Programme (MNTI2).

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- Local area training - know the area, know the magistrates their working with, its cheap.

Have to achieve 4 competencies -

1)Understand framework,                                                                                             2)Follow basic procedure,                                                                                         3)Think and act judicially,                                                                                             4)Be able to work in a team.

- Magistrates also have to keep a development log.

Initially new magistrates just watch cases in court and then they sit as a junior member of the bench, and for 2 years they will be observed by their mentor - have to attend around 7 more training sessions.

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Then the magistrates have an appraisal and their competencies signed. - Then they have ongoing annual training. (If in a family court, youth court or are a chair person additional training is required).

How are magistrates removed?                                                                   (Magistrates usually retire at 70 - or they go onto the supplemental list which is where they are used for signing documents.)

Removal by Lord Chancellor if :-

1)On the ground of incapacity and misbehaviour e.g. criminal conviction, political action, bringing bench into disrepute.                                                                2)Persistant failure to meet such standards of competence.                                                                                                        3)Declining or neglecting to take proper part in the exercise of his functions as a JP.

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Magistrates are - middle-aged, middle-class and middle-minded.

-40% are retired from fill-time employment. Over 7% are from ethnic backgrounds compared to only 2% of judges are from ethnic backgrounds. 50% of magistrates are women compared to only 12% of judges are women.

Duties -

1)Try 97% of all criminal cases completely and deal with preliminary hearings in other 3%. (Preliminary hearings include - Early Administrative Hearings, remand hearings, bail applications, and transfer proceedings - where serious criminal cases are sent to the Crown Court).

Under the Bail Act 1976 - presumed people will be given bail.

Legal aid Access to Justice Act 1999 - serious offences should get legal aid - when in magistrates court - dft has to pass 'means test' to gain legal aid.

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Role - In court they will -

1)Hear the evidence,                                                                                          2)Interpret the law,                                                                                              3)Decide the facts,                                                                                                           4)Decide the verdict (guilty or not guilty),                                                                         5)Decide the sentence,                                                                                                    6)Decide the costs and compensation, if found guilty,                                                     7)Give reasons for decisions.

The most common sentence given by magistrates are fines. IF a fine or discharge isn't given then a more serious sentence is needed - they then defer sentencing until they have a pre-sentence report from the probation service.

Magistrates can give a maximum sentence of 6 months in custody and/or $5000 fine. They can also send a case to the Crown Court after trial and conviction.

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Magistrates can also send cases to Crown Court if they feel they cannot deal with it, deal with appeals - 2 mags and 1 circuit judge sit in Crown Court to deal with appeals and finally they can deal with arrest and search warrants.

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Advantages of Magistrates

1)Cross-section of society - involves members of the community and provides a wider cross-section on the bench than would be possible with the use of professional judges.

2)Local knowledge - should have knowledge of particular problems within the area.

3)Cost - they are cheap, court only pays for there expenses. When replacing paid judges they save £100 million a year. Also to have a trial within the magistrates court is cheaper than the crown court.

4)Training - improved training means lay mags aren't complete amateurs.

5)Legal adviser - gives the mags access to any necessary legal advice on point that may arise within a case.

6)Few appeals - few defendants appeal against the magistrates decision - many are against the sentence not guilt. - Nearly 2 million cases most years 5000-6000 are appeals, less that half are successful.

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Disadvantages of Magistrates

1)Middle-aged, middle-minded and middle-class - found 40% are from professional or managerial backgrounds and are retired.

2)Inconsistency of Sentencing - magistrates in different areas pass different sentences for similar offences e.g. Burglary of dwellings = 20% of offenders are sentenced to custody in Teeside, 41% in Birmingham, 38% in Cardiff receive community sentences and 66% in Leicester.      -     Only 4% of offenders receive a prision sentence.

3)Reliance on the Clerk - lack of legal knowledge of lay justices should be offset by the fact a legal clerk is able to give advise - which will not prevent inconsistencies as clerk doesn't help with the decision. - some magistrates rely on the clerk too much.

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4)Prosecution bias - some believe the police too much. (Part of the training is aimed at eliminating this bias.    - low aquittal = 20%, whereas Crown Court 60% pleaded not guilty and were aquitted.

5)Training - criticisms in training is that it's variable in quality and inadequated for the workload.

Poor training may cause variations in sentencing and granting of bail between different benches.

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