- Cross-section of society
Unlike judges, magistrates represent a good cross-section of society, with 49% being women and a considerable involvement of ethnic minorities (around 9% of new appointments)
In order to replace magistrates with paid judges it would cost approximately £100 million per year. This would also require a sufficient amount of qualified lawyers to do the job. The cost of an average trial in a Magistrates' court is also cheaper (£1,500) than a trial in the Crown court (£13,500) - according to the Home Office in 1999.
Magistrates get fairly thorough training through MNTI 2 (initially around 18 hours). Since 1999 all clerks have also been required to be legally qualified which brings a higher level of skill to the court.
- Few Appeals
There are approximately 1.9 million cases dealt with per year in the Magistrates' Court. The Judicial Statistics Annual Report (2003) showed that in that year there were only 96 appeals to the High court on a point of law, and only 43 of those were allowed. From the appeals to the Crown court, only 2,179 actually varied the verdict or sentence.
The White Paper, Justice for All, shows that for 'driving while disqualified' the percentage of offenders given a prison sentence varied from 21% in Neath to 77% in mid-north Essex.
- Bias towards the police
In the case R v Bingham JJ (1974) the only evidence that the magistrates had of this speeding case was that of the motorist and the policemen. The chair of the bench said that in cases like these their principle has always been to believe the evidence from the police wherever there is direct conflict between them and the defendant. Therefore, the defendant was found guilty, when he was not.
- Magistrates tend to be middle-class and middle-aged
The report The Judiciary in the Magistrates (2000) found that 40% of lay magistrates were retired and were also overwhelmingly from a professional or managerial background.
- Over-reliance on the clerk
The clerk is not allowed to help the magistrates make a decision but they can advise on legal issues. In some courts…