Criminal Courts and Lay People


Questions could be asked on:

  • Criminal Courts and the Appeal System.
  • Classification of Offences.
  • Lay Magistrates (qualifications, selection and appointment, composition of the bench, training, role and powers).
  • Jurors (qualification and selection, role).
  • Evalutation of using lay people in criminal courts.

The Classification of Offences

All criminal offences are classified according to their seriousness.

  • Summary Offences

These are the least serious criminal offences and are dealt with in the Magistrates' Court. They include assault and battery, most driving offences such as driving without a licence and drink driving, and minor criminal damage up to the value of £5,000.

  • Either-way offences

These are the middle of the range offences, such as theft, obtaining property by deception, dealing in drugs and causing actual bodily harm. They can be tried either in the Magistrates' Court or in the Crown Court before a judge and jury.

  • Indictable Offences

These are the most serious offences such as murder, ****, manslaughter and armed robbery. They must be tried in the Crown Court, but there is always a first hearing in the Magistrates' Court at which the case is transferred to the Crown Court.

Criminal Courts

They go in the order of:
Magistrates Court > Crown Court > Queen's Bench Division of the High Court > Criminal division of the Court of Appeal (Appeals only) > Supreme Court (Appeals only).

Magitrates' courts can be found in most towns in the country. They hear all summary offences and most either way offences. Usually a bench of three magistrates will listen to the case and decide not only whether the defendant is guilty, but also what punishment to impose. Their powers are limited to a maximum of a £5,000 fine and up to six months imprisonment.

Magistrates also deal with the early stages of all criminal offences, for example they deal with all applications for bail. If the offence is indictable, they immediately transfer it to the Crown Court. If the offence is either-way, they hold a 'plea before venue' hearing.

Magistrates can also send a convicted person to the Crown Court for sentencing. They will only do this where they believe that a more severe sentence is needed than their powers allow.

Lay People

What are Lay People?

  • 'Lay' describes a person who is not formally qualified, but is non-professional or amateur.
  • The english legal system relies heavily on such people in the administration of justice.
  • They are felt to bring the system 'down to earth' and allow the 'ordinary person' an opportunity to participate in the machinery of justice. 


  • Part-time judges.
  • Hear minor cases at the local Magistrates' Court.
  • Not legally qualified.
  • Receive training to help them with their duties.
  • Approx. 30,000 lay magistrates in the english legal system.
  • Listen to approx. 98% of all criminal cases and refer the rest to higher courts.


a) 6 key qualities:

  • Good character.
  • Good understanding and communication.
  • Social awareness.
  • Maturity and sound temperment.
  • Sound judgment.
  • Commitment and reliability.

b) Oath of Allegiance.

British nationality is not a…


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