• Magistrates’ Courts try 97% of all criminal cases from start to finish
  • Deal with the other 3% criminal cases at least at a preliminary level with Early Administrative Hearings
  • Issuing extensions to police detention, arrest and search warrants
  • Deciding summary matters (deciding the guilt or innocence) and are responsible for sentencing offenders
  • Deal with preliminary matters such as bail and mode of trial hearings
  • Specially trained panels of magistrates deal with young offenders aged 10–17 years in Youth Court
  • Sit with judge in Crown Court to hear appeals from the Magistrates’ Court
  • Lay magistrates deal with the vast majority of cases as the use of district judges is still relatively limited.
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  • Deal with the enforcement of debts owed to the utilities (eg electricity)
  • Deal with non payment of TV licences and council tax
  • Hear appeals against refusal of alcohol licences
  • Special panel deals with certain matters under the Children Act 1989 in the Family Proceedings Court eg orders for protection against violence and adoption.
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Governed by the Juries Act 1974 as ammended

  •  Only those
    • aged between 18 and 70
    • on the electoral register; and
    • resident in UK for five years since age 13 can sit
  • Must sit unless disqualified or excused.
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  • Chosen at random from the electoral registers for a cout area by central office every fortnight
  • Summons are sent out electronically using a computer
  • Fifteen chosen at random from the jury pool to go into the court room
  • Twelve chosen at random in court by the clerk
  • Possible challenging to the array, by prosecution or defence on way jury selected
  • Possible challenge for cause, by prosecution or defence, because of connection with case incapacity
  • Right of stand by, by prosecution
  • Vetting- routine police check and rarely wider background check for political affiliations
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  • Only used in approximately one per cent of criminal cases
  • In the Crown Court the jury decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty
  • They listen to the evidence and the summing up by the judge
  • They decide questions of fact, the judge will advise them on questions of law
  • At the end of the trial they retire to the jury room to discuss the case in secret
  • They should come to a unanimous decision if possible or a majority decision at least 10–2 if necessary
  • They do not have to give any reasons for their decisions.
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  • Disqualified:
    • For life if imprisoned for life or have a sentence of 5 years or more
    • For ten years for sentences of less than 5 years, suspended sentences or community orders
    • whilst on bail
  • Ineligible:
    • mental disorder
    • Lack of capacity: cannot speak English, disability etc
    • Deaf and Blind
  • Excused:
    •  if serving in the armed forces and commanding officer certifies needed elsewhere
    • Application has been made to Jury Central Summoning Bureau
  • Discretionary Excusal:
  • Can be excused or have service deferred for “good reason” e.g. exams, pregnancy e.t.c– application has to be made to Jury Central Summoning Bureau.
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  • Possible challenge to the array, by prosecution or defence on way jury selected
  • Possible challenge for cause,by prosecution or defence, because of connection with case or incapacity
  • Right of stand-by, by prosecution
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  • Good cross section of society sitting on the bench when compared to judges. Lord Chancellor points out that the magistracy is diverse in terms of occupation, gender equality and good representation of ethnic minorities. However lay magistrates tend to be older than judges
  • There are three lay magistrates making a decision rather than one judge. This means that there is less likely to be prejudiced
  • Public involvement in the criminal justice system, sign of a democracy – not just the state charging, convicting and sentencing. Lay magistrates are able to express society’s disapproval of defendant’s actions when they convict
  • Local knowledge. Lay magistrates must live or work in the local justice area. This, in theory means that they should have awareness of local events, local patterns of crime and local opinions which a judge is unlikely to have. This ensures local justice is dispensed by local people. However, most magistrates come from professional and managerial classes and it is questioned whether these people do actually have any real knowledge of the problems in certain areas of the justice system eg poorer areas
  • Magistrates’ training has improved over the years. Training is now detailed and closely supervised by the Magistrates’ Committee of the Judicial Studies Board. This means that all lay magistrates follow the same syllabus and must achieve the same competencies. This in turn leads to less inconsistency in sentencing. If they need any legal advice during a case a legal adviser is on hand at all times
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  • Jury members free from pressure during their discussions allowing them to bring verdicts that may be unpopular with the public 
  • Jury members are protected from outside pressures. People may be less willing to serve on a jury if they knew their discussions were public due to possible repercussions 
  • Gives juries the freedom to ignore the strict letter of the law eg Kronlid, Kings Norton 6 if they believe the law is wrong. They do not have to give reasons for their decision
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  •  No reasons need to be given for a verdict, so no way of knowing if the jury did understand the case and came to the decision for the right reason(s). This makes it difficult to appeal 
  • Contempt of Court Act 1981 makes it an offence to disclose, obtain or solicit information about what happened in a jury room so a juror cannot disclose even when a decision is made on very shaky grounds (Mirza and Connor v Rollock) but inquiries can be made into conduct of the jury outside the jury room Young Ouija board case, Karakaya internet search case.
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  • There are relatively few appeals against magistrates’ decisions. This demonstrates that despite the amateur status of lay magistrates they do a very good job. Very few cases are appealed against conviction or on an error in law. However, one argument against this may be that a person appealing from the Magistrates’ Courts risks having their sentence increased
  • Lay magistrates are unpaid and are therefore cheap for the government. It would take several District Judges (Magistrates Court) to replace lay magistrates and this would cost the government an enormous amount of money. Also they would need to find sufficient qualified lawyers to do the job
  • Lay magistrates work part time – they are only required to commit to 26 half days per year. They are not sitting in court everyday seeing the same types of cases and defendants. This means that they are not as case–hardened as judges.
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  • Local Advisory Committee (LAC) undertake recruitment 
  • Vacancies advertised in a range of different areas or individuals may put themselves forward
  • Application form needs to be completed and submitted
  • LAC carry out two interviews
    • One to assess attitudes in particular the six key qualities 
    • Good character, communication skills, sound judgment, social awareness and commitment
    • One practical based on sentencing
  • LAC intend to create a panel representative of society (Cross Section)


  •  LAC submit names of suitable candidates to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
  • Candidates appear in court and swear the oath of allegiance
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  • Supervised by the Magistrates’ Committee of the Judicial Studies Board - Bench Training and Development Committees deliver the training
  • The Magistrates’ New Training Initiative (MNTI 2) provides a competence, training and appraisal framework
  • Four competencies: Managing yourself, Working as a team member, Making judicial decisions and for Chairmen, Managing judicial decisions
  • Training syllabus divided into three parts; Initial introductory training, Core training 
  • Activities - or Visit Prisons etc – sit with Mentors 
  • Trainee required to keep a Personal Development Log
  • First two years between 8 and 11 sittings will be mentored by experienced magistrate and trainee expected to attend approximately seven training sessions. 
  • After two years (or when felt necessary) appraised to check the competencies have been acquired
  • Consolidation training (12 hours) after 2 years
  • Extra training for a Chair Person and for work in the Youth and Family courts is available after three years’ service
  • Further training and appraisal possible for someone who has failed their first appraisal
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  • Prior to 1998 there were many criticisms of the training of magistrates as it was not well organised. Since MNTI 2 training is very organised and seeks to prepare magistrates well for their various roles 
  • Bench Training and Development Committees deliver the training to ensure consistency across the country
  • The initial training ensures magistrates are not put in a position where they cannot manage their role coupled with the use of a mentoring scheme has enabled new magistrates to have individual assistance in any area they are not sure of. It also allows for continual appraisal to ensure a new magistrate can manage their role 
  • The competencies set guidelines for those appraisingto ensure magistrates can do their job properly
  • Extra training for any additional roles such as the Family Court, the Youth Court or chairing a bench again ensures magistrates can manage their role
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  • There is a good cross section of society. The magistracy is diverse in terms of occupation, gender equality and good representation of ethnic minorities. 
  • Public involvement in the criminal justice system, sign of a democracy – not just the state charging, convicting and sentencing. 
  • Local knowledge. Lay magistrates must live or work in the local justice area. This, in theory means that they should have awareness of local events, local patterns of crime and local opinions which a judge is unlikely to have. This ensures local justice is dispensed by local people. However, most magistrates come from professional and managerial classes and it is questioned whether these people do actually have any real knowledge of the problems in certain areas of the justice system eg poorer areas
  • Lay magistrates are unpaid and are therefore cheap for the government in such times of austerity. 
  • Lay magistrates work part time – they are only required to commit to 26 half days per year. They are not sitting in court everyday seeing the same types of cases and defendants. This means that they are not as case–hardened as judges.
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  • One disadvantage is that Jury members lack legal qualification's. Selection is based on the three requirements set out in the Act no minimum educational standards required. This means that in criminal matters it is very rare for a legally qualified person to come to the decision they only pass sentence. In some civil matters the jury will deside liability and the award of damages. However, jury's only deside fact. The judge decides the law.
  • In some complex cases for example fraud, a disadvantage is the lack of general understanding of the proceddings and case. A small number of jurors admit having difficulty understanding cases and although its only a small number of people it is concerning when in criminal matters it may be a persons liberty at stake or a in a civil matter a persons reputation. Juries have been removed from most fraud cases in criminal law due to the complex nature of the evidence. It does not seem justified to keep the option for civil fraud cases.
  • Some comment that a disadvantage of usuinga Jury is the fact that there are too many people o a jury panelto allow for productive discussion. In criminal cases and high court Civil matters there will be twelve members of a jury and it may be seen that this is too many for productive discussion. It can take a while for all those voices to be heard and to ensure all have understood. However, twelve people will cancel each other's prejudices out and it is better to have twelve than one.
  • The fact that juries sometimes reach what is known as a perverse decision is seen as a disadvantage. Juries are able to ignore laws that they feel re unjust. Often the decisions do not appear justified even when the car is clear-cut.
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  • A disadvantage to the state and those with limited funds is the jury trial is both time consuming and costly. Because jury's are lay people and everything needs to be explained to them in order that they understand. There are also times when the jury has to leave court in order that legal argument may take  place. All this adds to the length of the trial. This in turn adds to the cost. It would be quicker and cheaper if it were one judge.
  • The compulsory nature of jury service is seen as a disadvantage. Jury service is to some an inconvenience in terms of time and money. Two weeks is a long time and although many employer's will continue to pay jurors whilst they are away from work some do not. Some people find that they are not able to claim backcfro. The court their fullvwges therefore losing money.
  • A growing disadvantage of usuing a Jury in both crimininal and civil matters is that it is extremely difficult to know if there jury has been influenced by different types of media. In the recent News of the World phone hacking case the judge felt the need to give strict instructions to the jury regarding the importance of only deciding on the facts given in the case and not taking account of anything read in the papers on the Internet or information sent social media.
  • The fact the jury does not need to give a reason for the decision reached is seen as a disadvantage. A judge or panel or lay magistrates is required to give their  reasons. The !ack of reason may be considered a disadvantage becasue it makes it difficult for the defendant to appeal and there is no way of knowing how the decision was reached and whether the case was understood
  • In Defamation Cass which involve celebrities there may be some bias as a jury may have pre-concieved ideas about the person and newspaper do not have good reputation therefore it may be better to leave the decision making to a judge who may be less bias.
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