law revision on magistrates

as law revision on lay magistrates


introduction - lay magistrates

who are lay magistrates?

people who are not legally qualified in the decision making process in our courts

who do they mainly apply to?

to magistrates court and crown court, some have beenused in civil cases in high court and county court

who are lay assessors?

lay people with expertise in a particular field who sit as part of a panel as lay assessors

what is another name for lay magistrates?

justices of peace

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introduction - lay magistrates

what do lay magistrates do?

they sit to hear cases as a bench of 2-3 magistrates

what power do lay magistrates have?

single lay magistrate sitting on thier own has limited powers,
however they can issue searchwarrants and warrants for arrest and can conduct Early Administrative Hearings EAH

who are district judges?

legally qualified people and can hear a case on their own, same powers as a bench of lay magistrates

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lay magistrates-qualifications

candidatesdon't need qualifications, however what are the 6 key qualities they need which the lord chancellor set?

good character

communication & understanding

social awareness

maturity and sound temperament

sound judgement

commitment and reliability

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lay magistrates-qualifications

why do candidates need certain judicial qualities?

important that they are able to assimilate factual information and make a reasoned decision upon it

how old must a lay magistrate be?

18-65 year old on appointment, however it is rare that a person under 27 will be considered as they will have less experience

why was the age reduced to 18?

more chance of younger lay magistrates if they are considered suitable

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lay magistrates-qualifications

where are lay magistrates required to live/work?

near to their local justice area which they are allocated, specified by lord chancellor

what commitments are they required to make?

commit themselves to at least 26 half days in a year, quite an onerous commitment, lord chancellor may reduce it to 24 half days annually

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lay magistrates-qualifications

what are the restrictions on appoinment?

people with serious criminal convictions will not be eligible to be appointed, though a conviction for a minor motoring offence will not be automatically diqualified

who are the others that are disqualified?

undischarged bankrupts,
members of the forces,
those who are incompatible in sitting with a magistrate

E.g such as police officers. traffice wardens
relatives of such people i.e wife of police officer

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lay magistrates-qualifications

what were district judges previously known as?

stipendiary magistrates

what must the have and who are they usually chosen from?

they must have seven year general qualification and are chosen from practicing solicitors or barristers or from others with relevant experience such as court clerks

where are they only appointed?

to courts in london or other bigger cities such as birmingham, liverpool and manchester

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lay magistrates-qualifications

what will district judges need to do before they come a district judge?

they will need to sit as an acting judge part time fpr two years


to gain experience of sitting judicially, and to establish their suitability for full time appoinment

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magistrates- appointment

who are the appointments made by for lay magistrates?

lord chancellor

what does the lord chancellor do in order to decide who to appoint?

relies on recommendations made to him by the local advisory committees- method is much criticised

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magistrates- appointment

what must the local advisory committees do?

publish names of people

who do the members tend to be?

current or ex-justices of the peace

who is the chairman of the committee?

lord lieutenant of the county, about half the members retire in rotation every 3 years

what is the maximum number of members the committee should have?

12 should include a mixture of magistrates and non-magistrates

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magistrates- appointment

who are the names put forward by to the local advisory committee?

by other groups such as political parties, trade unions, and chambers of commerce or the person themselves through newspaper ads or even buses

to get a wide range of potential candidates what has the local advisory committee done?

posters are being aimed at ethnic groups, radio adverts to encourage more people to come to the open evening

what is the intention of this?

to create a panel that will represent different aspects of the society

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magistrates- appointment

what was the reason behind the lord chancellor telling the local advisory committees to bear in mind people's political allegiances?

to get better balanced panels of magistrates

good social balance on magistrates' panels

for the moment, poilitical balance remains the most practical method

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magistrates- appointment

there is usually a 2 stage interview process, what happens in the first interview?

they look to see if they have the 6 qualities, explore candidates attitude on various criminal justice issues e.g youth crime/drink driving

what happens in the 2nd interview?

aimed at testing candidates potential judicial aptitude

how is this done?

by a discussion of at least 2 case studies which are typical of those heard regularly in magistrates court

example of discussion- type of sentence which should be imposed on a specific case

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composition of the bench today-magistrates

what is the traditional image of lay justices?

they are middle-class, middle-aged and middle-minded

to a certain extent how is this true?

magistrates are in the age bracket of 45-65, under 40 are still rare


49% of women magistrates as against 10% of professional judges
ethnic groups are well represented,due to advertisements in newspapers

disabled person, first blind lay magistrate to be appointed in 1998

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magistrates duties

what is magistrates wide workload mainly connected with?

criminal cases and some civil cases especially family matters-

which includes what?

they try 97% of all criminal cases and deal with preliminary hearings in the remaining 3% of criminal cases

also involves EAH, remand hearings, bail applications, and committal proceedings

civil matters include the enforcing of debts owed to the utilities(gas, water, electric)
non-payment of the council tax or television licences

hear appeals from refusal of a local authority to grant licenses for the sale of alcohol and licenses for betting and gaming establishments

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magistrates duties

what are the duties of magistrates in the youth court?

specially nominated and trained justices to hear criminal charges from young offenders 10-17 years old,

magistrate must be under 65 years old and panel must include atleast one man and one woman

there is special panel for family cases, including orders for protection agaist violence,

affilitation cases,

adoption orders

and proceedings under children act 1989

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magistrates duties

what are the magistrates duties in appeals?

lay magistrates sit in crown court to hear appeals from the magistrates' court

the lay justices form a panel with a qualified judge

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training of lay magistrates

who is the traing supervised by?

magistrates committee of the judicial board

what has this committee drawn up?

syllabus of the topics which lay magistrates' should cover in their training

where is the training carried out and why?

due to large number of lat magistrates, done in local area sometimes through the clerk of the court, sometimes through weekend courses done by universities

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training of lay magistrates

what was a criticism of the training?

although magistrates were required to attend a certain number of hours, there was no assessment of how much was understood

what are the 4 areas of competence the framework of traing is divided into?

first 3 relevant to all lay magistsates fourth one is for chairmen of the bench

managing yourself,
working as a member of a team,
making judicial decisions and
managing judicial decisions

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training of new magistrates

the syllabus for new magistrates is divided into what 3 parts?

initial introductory training- covers matters to understand the organisation of the bench
and reponsibilities of those involved in the magistrates' court

core training- acquire and develop key skills,
knowledge and understanding for a competent magistrate

activities- observations of court sittings and visits to prison/probation office

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training of new magistrates-mentors

what does each new magistrate keep?

a personal record of their progress and have a mentor (experienced magistrate) assisted with them

during initial introductory training what will they also take part in?

court room observations on 3 occasions

how should this be arranged?

so they see different aspects of work and should include preliminary decisions such as

a short summary trial and sentencing

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training of new magistrates-training sessions

when are training sessions organised and carried out?

they are organised and carried out mainly by justices' clerks at local level within the 42 court areas

what do they alsotake into account?

the need to collaborate regionally and nationally where appropriate

where will be training for youth and family panel be delivered?

nationally for areas which don't have enough chairmen to conduct chairmen to conduct that specific training

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training of new magistrates-appraisals

what will happen during the first 2 years a magistrate will be sitting in court?

between 8-11 of the sessions will be supervised by a mentor

what will happen after those 2 years?
there will be an appraisal of the magistrate to see if they have acquired the competencies

what happens if magistrate can't show they have achieved these competencies?
they will be given extra training

and what will happen if they still haven't got the competencies?

the matter will be referred to the local advisory committee who may recommend to the lord chancellor to remove the magistrate

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training of new magistrates-appraisals

what does the new scheme of training involve?

practical training of the job,

also answers the criticism of the old system where there was no check made on whether the magistrate had benefited from the training session they attended

why is the chairing in the court also improving?

because even the magistrates who chair the bench are also appraised for this role

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advantages of lay magistrates

what are the advantages of lay magistrates and the cross section of society?

provide a wider cross section on the bench than would be possible with the use of professional judges

ethnic minorities are well represented in the magistracy

lay magistrates are more representative than district judges in the magistrates' court as district judges are usually male, white and younger

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advantages of lay magistrates

what are the advantages of lay magistrates and local knowledge?

magistrates will need to sit in the local justice area in which they reside, so they have local knowledge of particular problems in the area-
living in better areas they will be unaware of the problems that occur in poorer

main value of is that they will have more awareness of local events, local patterns of crime and local opinions that a professional judge from another area won't know

magistrates' courts have been closed- they have to travel long distances to reach the nearest magistrate court. this means the advantage of the local knowledge of a lay magistrate is being lost

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advantages of lay magistrates

what are the advantages of lay magistrates in terms of cost?

use of unpaid lay magistrate is cheap

higher cost in appointing professional judges as their salary is higher

problem with recruiting qualified lawyers

cost of trial is cheaper in magistrates' than in crown court because they deal with more complex cases which take longer

but the cost to the govt and to defendants who pay for their own lawyers is much higher

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advantages of lay magistrates

what are the advantages of lay magistrates in terms of the legal advisers?

magistrate clerk have to be legally qualified- existing clerks under 40 have to qualify within 10years

this brings a higher level of legal skill in magistrates, therefore overcomes the criticism that lay magistrates are not legally qualified

legal advisers gives the magistrates access to any necessary legal adviceon points that may arise in case

training of lay magistrates is also improving and there is practical training involved as well

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advantages of lay magistrates

what are the advantages of lay magistrates in terms of a few appeals?

few defendants appeal against the magistrates' decisions and many of these are against the sentence not against the finding of guilt

very few instances where an error of law is made

despite the amatuer status of lay magistrates' they do a remarkably good job

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disadvantages of lay magistrates

what are the advantages of lay magistrates in terms of them being middle-aged, middle-class?

its found that 40% of lay magistrate were retired and they were from a professional or managerial background

however still from a range of backgrounds rather than professional judges

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disadvantages of lay magistrates

what are the disadvantages of lay magistrates in terms of prosecution bias?

lay magistrates tend to believe the police too quickly

lower acquittal rate in magistrates than in crown court

they will see the CPS prosecutor and this could affect judgement

however part of their training is aimed at eliminating this type of bias

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disadvantages of lay magistrates

what are the disadvantages of lay magistrates in terms of inconsistency and sentencing?

magistrates in different areas tend to pass different sentences for similar offences

these offences include burgulary of dwellings
driving whilst disqualified
recieving stolen goods

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disadvantages of lay magistrates

what are the disadvantages of lay magistrates in terms of reliance on clerks?

lack of legal knowledge of the lay justices should be offset by the fact that a legally qualified clerk is available to give advice

this will not prevent any incosistencies in sentencing as these clerks are not available when deciding the case

in some courts it is felt that magistrates rely heavily on the clerk

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Michael Owusu


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