Magistrates Unit 1

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Magistrates are lay people so have no legal qualifications

Potential Magistrates must:

  • Live or work near the local justice area where they will serve
  • Be 18-65 years old when appointed (can serve till they are 70)
  • Commit to 26 half days a year
  • Have visited a Magistrates' court at least once

They must demonstrate 6 character traits:

  • Good character (no convictions)
  • Understanding and communication
  • Social awareness
  • Maturity and a sound temperament 
  • Sound judgement
  • Commitment and reliability

Who can't be a Magistrate: Criminals, army members, anyone involved with the law (eg directly or closely related to someone who is), bunkrupt people.

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Their Role

  • Indictable offences are transferred to the Crown Court
  • Mags will hear an application for bail, and can grant either unconditional or with conditions
  • If they are a danger to the public, Mags will hear an application for remand
  • If the police want keep the suspect longer they can apply for an extention (max. 96 hours)
  • If the police want to search a property they will ask the Mags for a warrant or if someone is being called to attend a court hearing, the Mags will issue a summons
  • Suspects between 10 and 17 are heard in the Youth Court, even for indictable offences except murder
  • Mags will spend their time listening to evidence, getting advice from the court clerk and deciding if the defendant is guilty or not guilty
  • If Mags find D guilty they have to sentence him. If their powers are insufficient they can send D to the Crown Court for sentencing
  • They also hear appeals against conviction and sentence in the Crown Court with a judge but can't hear any trials they were previously involved with
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  • Apply via directgov or respond to adverts in the media
  • Advisory Commitee create a shortlist and check references
  • Interviews. The panel consists of two Magistrates and either a judge or ex-police officer
  • There are two interviews

1. examination of character.

2. trial and sentence exercises

  • Reviewed by commitee to ensure a balanced bench eg. age, gender, job 
  • Commitee submits recommendations to the Lord Chancellor 
  • Lord Chancellor makes the appointment on the Queen's behalf
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  • Organised by the Judicial College and carried out by the court clerk/ legal advisors
  • Training set out in the MNTI1 which was refined by the MNTI2 in 2004
  • The syllabus is broken into 3 parts

1. Initial introductionary training- learn about the court and understand the role

2. Core training- focuses on key skills, knowledge and understanding needed for Magistrates

3. Activities- observe court sessions and visit practice places like prison and probation offices

  • Then they sit as wingers on trials (beside the chair person)
  • During the first 12-18 months the sessions are observed by mentors (experienced Magistrates)
  • They also have to attend about 7 consolidation training sessions in this period
  • At the end of the 12-18 months they will have an appraisal (feedback, discussion with mentor) which then will happen once every 3 years
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Extra Training

There is Threshold Training for Magistrates working in:

  • The Youth Court
  • Family Court
  • Chair person of the bench

All Magistrates will have update training when Parliament bring out a significant new stature eg. Human Rights Act 1988

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Retirement/ Removal

Magistrates have to retire at 70 years old

The Lord Chancellor can remove Magistrates under the Court Act 2003 for one of 3 reasons:

  • Incapacity (serious illness) or misbehaviour (criminal conviction)
  • Persistant failure to meet standards of competence
  • Neglecting/ declining to participate in your role as a Magistrate
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Advantages of Magistrates

Cross section of society

3 Magistrates should display a range of views as it is balanced in terms of gender, age, occupation. They also live in the local area so should be aware of patterns of crime. 

2012 stats from Judicary of England and Wales: '51% of Mags are female, 49% are male compared to judges where 22% are female and 78% are male'


They deal with the majority of criminal cases and are significantly cheaper than Crown Court trials because Mags aren't paid and cases are dealt with very quickly. So D's legal costs are much cheap and saves tax payer's money to go on NHS/ education.

Average Mags trial costs £1500 whereas average Crown Court trial costs £13,500

Few Appeals

There are few appeals from the Mags court, which implies they are getting their decisions right. 

Out of the average of 200,000 cases a year, there are only 5000/6000 appeals

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Disadvantages of Magistrates

Middle age and Middle class

Mags tend to be in their 50s and 60s and come from similar backgrounds.

2012 stats from Judicary of England and Wales: 54% are over 60, 3% between 18-40

Inconsistency in Sentencing

Magistrates in different areas sentence Ds differenly- post code lottery is inconsistent.

2001 Stats in Govt White Paper: Driving while disqualified in Neath Port Talbot 21% go to prison but in Essex 77% go to prison for the same crime

Over reliance on court clerk

Some Mags rely too heavily on the court clerk to help them reach a verdict. However the clerk is not allowed to influence their decision or play a part in them coming to their verdict.

R v Eccles Justices ex parte Farrelly. D's conviction quashed because clerk helped the Mags find him guilty

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