The Role of Magistrates and What They Sit In.
Magistrates sit on a bench of three within a magistrates court. On the bench there is a chairmen and two wingmen.
Of all criminal 97% are trailed in a magistrates court. Magistrates decided whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If they decide guilty then they will also choose the sentence.
If they believe that they don’t have enough power to sentence then the trail will be passed on to the crown court for a higher sentence.
What Crimes and Torts do Magistrates Deal With?
- sentencing (Minor crimes)
- And warrants.
- Family Cases
- Enforcing debts
- And some licencing
What Qualifications Does Someone Need to Apply to
You don’t need any qualifications but you need to be in-between the ages of 18 and 65 on appointment.
You also need six key qualities:
- Good character and respectful
- Understanding and communication
- Social awareness
- Maturity and sound temperament
- Sound judgment
- Commitment and reliability
What Disqualifies Someone From Becoming a Magistra
You will be disqualified if;
- you have commited a serious offence
- If you work for or are in a relationship with someone who works for court associated (eg, police, probation, prison service)
- Also If you’re a undischarged bankrupt.
Retirement and Removal
The retirement for a magistrate is 70.
They do not officially retire they name is put on a supplemental list which means they cannot sit.
After retirement they can still do admin work such as warrants and licences.
The Lord Chancellor can remove magistrates for the following reasons;
- If a magistrate commits a misconduct.
- If a magistrate fails to meet competent standards.
- If someone is incapable of duties (ill health for example) or has neglected proper functions.
You have to sit on the bench for at least 5 years otherwise. You can be removed if you're of ill health and you won’t have to sit the whole 5 years and you won’t be able sit at all if you’re removed.
Selection of Magistrates – process
The steps of the selection process;
- The first step for applying to become a magistrate first need to apply by filling out an application form
- You are also asked to visit the courts once or more, so you can talk about it in your interview.
- The next you have two interviews, one an oral interview just like a job interview, then a one which is an activity like an sentencing scenario.
- The next stage is rejection or appointment. You’re appointment is chosen by the Lord Chancellor, and then they are sworn in.
The training will last through out their whole career, as they will have to keep up to date with the law and how to apply it.
The first step of training is to complete the prior reading and exercises.
The next stage is called initial training; this is an introductory training on the basics of the role. During this training they must complete three court visits.
The next stage is core training; this is further training, during this training people will visit prisons and make court (and prison and police station) observations. They will work with court personnel.
The next stage is mentoring; each new magistrate has a specially trained mentor. There will be six formal mentored sittings in the first 12-18 months.
The next stage is consolidation training; after two years must complete 12 hours of consolidation training, which will bring everything together.
The last stage is the first appraisal; about 1 year after appointment, the new justice is appraised. They will be observed and reviewed. If successful, magistrate is deemed fully competent.
Ongoing Training - They continue training throughout their career with appraisals every three years, regular updates on training to keep up with changing legislation, and specialised training to work in Family and Youth Courts.
Good things about magistrates
- Less money for the state to pay out as magistrates volunteer, this saves the state millions or even billions annually.
- Provides a large cross section, as it is open to anyone to do. For example, 47% of magistrates are women compared against 5% of professional judges. Even though there is a shortage of ethnic minority magistrates, there is more involvement than in the main judiciary.
- They tend to know a lot about the local area which gives them an insight.
- They have to train and continue training unlike a jury.
- They have a legal adviser (a legal clerk) to give legal advice.
- Few defendants appeal against the magistrates’ decision, and many of the appeals are against sentence and not against findings of guilt.
Bad things about magistrates
- Even though applying to become a magistrate is open to everyone, not everyone does there for a large amount of magistrates are middle classed and middle or older aged.
- There are criticisms that the training is variable in quality and inadequate for the workload.
- Several studies in recent years have revealed worrying differences in the number of defendants sent to prison. For example a study of sentencing by Liberty showed that in 1990 twice as many defendants were sent to prison by magistrates in Greater Manchester compared to Merseyside.
- The clerk is not allowed to help the magistrates decide on a sentence, they are only able to advice.
- In some courts it is felt that the magistrates rely too heavily on their clerk.
- It is often said that lay magistrates tend to be prosecution-biased, believing the police too readily. For example the CPS report 1994/5 showed that of 93,000 defendants who pleaded not guilty, only 22% were acquitted.