Magistrates and Juries
Magistrates are volunteer judges who are not legally trained and can be any member of the public from 18yrs of age to 65.
A jury member is a randomly chosen member of the public who is selected to sit as part of a panel of 12 poeple in the Crown Court who decide whether the Defendant is guilt or not guilty of a crime.
Both Magistrates and jury members are not legally trained and volunteer their own type for no payment to play vital roles in deciding on criminal cases. They are known as lay people. The word “lay” means not legally qualified.
Overview presentation on Magistrates:
Task: Watch the following video and use the attached worksheet to identify specific issues mentioned in it. Then complete the follow up worksheet.
For more information on how to become a Magistrate click here.
To see an application form for becoming a Magistrate click here.
Here is a link to the Magistrates Association website.
Watch an interview with a magistrate outlining what they do:
Task: Using the website, the notes and AS law text books complete the research activity in this worksheet.
Selection of Magistrates
The word selection refers to applying and being chosen as a Magistrate.
The Local Advisory Committee (LAC) is responsible for ensuring that local magistrates (know collectively as the bench) are from the local area and reflect the ethnic and social background of the area as well as good mix of people from different working backgrounds they serve as a court.
The LAC also have to ensure there is a good gender balance. The aim is to create a balanced bench. The LAC is made up of 6 serving and 6 ex magistrates and is based in the local magistrates court, eg Wigan. Magistrates courts are organised into 1600 petty session areas and new magistrates are allocated to one of these areas, of which Wigan & Leigh Magistrates court is one such area. It is the role of the LAC to:
- Advertise for new Magistrates
- Review all applications made to become a new Magistrate using the critieria mentioned below
- Conduct two interviews to decide whether an applicant is suitable to become a new Magistrate
- Recommend any suitable new Magistrate to the Lord Chancellor to be formally appointed into the role
To be able to apply to become a Magistrate candidates must satisfy the following:
Age: 18 — 65 years (retire at 70 years old)
Residence: Within 15 miles of commission area of the court.
Minimum Time per year: 26 half days in court. Employers have to give time off from work to be a Magistrate as per Section 50 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Health: Applicants must be able to hear clearly and listen to a case for long periods of time.
The Lord Chancellor has also stated (in 1988) that any member of the public applying to be a Magistrate should have six key qualities in order to become a Magistrate:
- Good character
- Understanding & communication
- Social awareness
- Maturity & sound temperament
- Sound judgement
- Commitment & reliability
Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor and Minster of Justice speaking on the issue of a prisoners right to vote:
Who is disqualified from becoming a Magistrate?
- Anyone who is a member of the Police Service.
- Anyone who is a member of, or have been selected (formally or informally) as a prospective candidate for election to, any Parliament or Assembly.
- If you are an undischarged bankrupt (somone who legally cannot pay off their debts), you will not be appointed as a magistrate because it is unlikely you would command the confidence of the public.You have convictions or motoring offences: Clearly any fairly recent or serious criminal convictions will mean a person is unable to become a magistrate. If the applicant has had their driving licence suspended for less than 12 months in the past five years, or for 12 months or more in the past 10 years, they would generally not be able to become a magistrate.
Interview & Selection process
The LAC holds two interviews once they have ensured the candidate has the right skills in their application:
Interview one: Assess the candidate’s key qualities and aptitude to work as a magistrate such as working as part of a team.
Interview two: Gets the candidate to give their opinion on a series of sentencing scenarios as this will be the largest part of their duties.
For all candidates that meet the six key quality requirements and pass the LAC interview process their names are recommended to the Lord Chancellor for appointment under the Crime and Courts Act 2013. It is the Lord Chief Justice who formally decides if the candidate should be a magistrate.
If the candidate is successful they will finally be appointed at a swearing in ceremony at their local court where they must swear an oath to the Queen.
Training of Magistrates
Training is not intended to turn Magistrates into lawyers but to give them an understanding of their their duties. The focus is upon court procedure and the practice and theory of sentencing.
Their training is supervised by the Magistrates Committee of the Judicial Studies Board and carried out locally by the clerk of the court. The Judicial Studies Board are the government department responsible for setting up the national training for magistrates in England and Wales.
Guidelines for training are found in the Magistrates National Training Initiative 2004 (MNTI2)
The training will help you develop all the knowledge and skills you need to become an effective and confident magistrate. Training focus is upon skills of managing oneself, making decisions, working as a team member and role of a Magistrate.
It is based on a competence framework and includes:
Reading and distance learning exercises that cover the role and responsibilities of a magistrate.
Induction and core training before a Magistrate sits in court. This will normally be for the equivalent of three days (18 hours) and may be delivered: over a long weekend; in a series of short evening sessions over several weeks; over three separate week days; or as a residential course.
This takes place over a period of between 1 – 3 years. The Magistrate will be asked to keep a learning log, a record of what happens in court and other types of training. The Magistrate will be allocated an experience Magistrate as a mentor, to discuss their experiences with and ask for advice and guidance throughout their training.
A minimum of three court observations will take place. Normally there will be between 3 and 6 court observations where the magistrate will make record of what they have learnt and any questions in their learning log.
Magistrates will visit a prison establishment, a young offender institution and a probation service facility. This is to experience what it is like to be sent to this environment as the magistrate will need to have a good idea of the effects of the potential sentences they may pass on an offender.
Once the magistrate has completed all their core training they will hold a meeting with an experienced magistrate to discuss whether they are ready to take up their duties of sitting on the bench. The meeting is called an appraisal.
The Magistrate will receive this after about a year. It will normally be for the equivalent of two days (12 hours) and, like the core training, may be delivered in a variety of ways. It will cover areas such as sentencing.
As the law changes magistrates need to be kept upto date so they can decide cases and sentences correctly, eg Human Rights Act training.
After 3 years of sitting as a magistrate they can apply to train in specialised roles:
Chairman of the bench: They can train to become the head of the panel of 3 magistrates that sits on cases.
Youth court: They can train to do with criminal offences and young offenders.
Family court: They can train to sit on hearings to do with child protection and allegations of child cruelty.
Task: Using your notes answer the following exam questions using the plan below:
Task: Complete the short quiz on Magistrates called Magistrates introduction quiz on the quiz website to see what you have remembered.
Role and work of Magistrates
Task: Watch the video clip below and write down 3 things that Magistrates do whilst sitting in court.
Magistrates are volunteers who sit for a minimum of 26 half days per year in the Magistrates court. Three Magistrates sit on a case supported by a legally trained clerk, the Magistrates clerk. The clerk will advise the Magistrates on the law related to the case they are currently considering. All 1.9million criminal cases have their first hearing in front of the Magistrates, a pretrial hearing.
Magistrates deal with all summary offences, minor offences such as speeding, from the Early Administrative Hearing (EAH) to sentencing. At the EAH the Magistrates will ask for the D’s plea and if this is guilty they will then look at sentencing the D. If the D pleads not guilty then the Magistrates will consider applications for bail and legal aid, under the Access to Justice Act. The Magistrate will also instruct the P and D as to when the trial date will be and as to the witnesses that need to be summoned and other evidence required.
Under the Bail Act 1976 all D’s are said to have a general presumption to be granted bail, which means they can go about their daily lives and just attend court for hearings and the trial. Serious offences such as murder presume the D cannot be released and they must stay in prison so cannot get bail. The Magistrates will consider any previous offences and breaches of bail conditions before deciding whether the D can get conditional bail, such as reporting to the police station or must remain in prison until the trial, remand.
For triable either way (tew) offences such as theft are medium serious and require the Magistrates to under take a plea before venue hearing where the D states whether they plead guilty or not guilty. If the D pleads guilty and the Magistrates think the case is too serious for their sentencing powers they can send it to the crown Court who have greater powers.
Where the D pleads not guilty the Magistrates can decide to commit the D to the Crown Court for the trial if they believe the offence is too serious or complex from the evidence given at the mode of trial hearing. Otherwise the the D can decide whether to have the trial in the Crown or Magistrates court.
3 Magistrates deal with all summary trials and any tew trials where the D decides to have trial in the Magistrates court. The Magistrates will listen to evidence from the Prosecution and defence, including any witnesses, victims and the Defendant. The Magistrates will get guidance from the Justices clerk on the road and then retire to discuss their verdict, which is a majority decision. The chairperson will ask any questions and will be the only Magistrate to address the D, P and the defendant themselves throughout the case. This includes giving the verdict, guilty of not guilty.
Where the D pleads guilty straight away the Magistrates can deduct a third off the D’s sentence for this early plea. On a guilty verdict or plea the Magistrates will listen to evidence that may make the sentence harsher from the P, aggravating factors and evidence from the D to try and reduce the sentence, mitigating factors. For most sentences the Magistrates will ask the probation service to prepare a report and then take the social and community ties background of the D into account when setting the sentence. The chairperson will tell the D the sentence and particularly if it is a prison sentence must state why the sentence was set at this level. The maximum fine is £5000 and the maximum prison sentence is 6 months. For tew trials the Magistrates may be decide to send the guilty offender to the Crown court if they feel the D’s offence and circumstances require harsher punishment.
Appeals on sentence or conviction by the D from trials in the magistrates court are held in the Crown court with two Magistrates and a Crown Court judge. The whole case is heard in full again and sentence or conviction re assessed.
Other court duties
Magistrates are specially trained to work in the Youth court. Here offenders under the age of 18 are dealt with in this court for all but the most serious offences with a maximum sentence in a Young Offenders Institute is 24 months.
The Family Court again has specially trained Magistrates to deal with issues such as child protection.
Finally Magistrates can deal with licensing Appeals. This is where the Local Council refuses to grant a person a licence to sell alcohol (e.g. for a pub) and they have a right to appeal this decision to the Magistrates court.
Magistrate a responsible for issuing police with a warrant, a legal document usually issued to the police to search premises or arrest a suspect. Magistrates will be asked to issue a warrant at any time based on the evidence provided by the police.
Task: Watch the video on arrest warrants and write down 3 key facts about arrest warrants. Click here.
When the Police arrest and hold a suspect in custody they must take their case to court if they wish to hold the suspect from 36 hrs upto a maximum of 96 hours.
Task: Answer the following exam questions:
Explain the work of lay magistrates. (10 marks)
Advantages and Disadvantages of Magistrates in the Criminal Justice System.
The Public has confidence in a trial by peers.
Since the Magna Carta there has been a long established view in English law that the fairest method of deciding whether a D is guilty of a criminal offence is to allow those from a similar background who understand the local issues to judge each case. This is shown through the LAC trying to select from people who live in the local community. In the case of Paul v DPP it was the local knowledge of the Magistrates about the residential street where the offence took place that led them to convict the D as it was likely he was causing a nuisance in picking up a prostitute in his car. This also reduces the need for professional involvement with the Magistrates only relying on the Magistrates clerk for advice where absolutely necessary.
They are seen to be fair as the trial is open to scrutiny by the public
The Magistrates make their decision as a panel of three judges rather than just one professional judge so are able to discuss different view points on the case before coming to a majority decision. This is the same for trials and for sentencing. When sentencing the offender Magistrates also give reasons for their sentence and all proceedings can be watched by the public so justice is seen to be done.
There are a limited number of appeals
Out of the1.9 million cases in 2003 of which over 98% are dealt with by Magistrates there were only 11858 appeals. Of these only 2811 appeals successful, showing that Magistrates deliver an outstanding level of service in the cases they judge each year.
They a cost effective compared to judge only trials.
Magistrates cost £52.10ph vs District judge £61.78. It would cost millions of pounds to replace the 30,000 unpaid Magistrates with full time judges. In 2003 the cost was estimated to be £100 million.
They are representative of society.
There are 51% male and 49% female Magistrates. There are 6% ethnic minority Magistrates vs. 8% in UK population. Hence often they are more able to relate to defendant's world and come to the right decision in the case.
Magistrates are note a true cross representation of society
Magistrates are “middle class, middle aged and middle minded” with the average age of a Magistrate being. The average age is 45-65 and over 40% of Magistrates are retired. This will be because Magistrates are required to sit a minimum of 26 half days per year and therefore only managers and professionals and retired people can meet these requirements.
Magistrates are inconsistent in sentencing offenders
For the crime of Burglary In Teeside Magistrates sent 20% of those convicted to prison whereas in Birmigham 41% were sent to prison. Therefore justice is not being effectively delivered for similar types of offences.
Magistrates are bias in favour of the prosecution and police
Magistrates are often seen as pro prosecution so in the case of R v Bingham in, where the only evidence in a speeding case was from the motorist and a police officer, the Chairmen of the Magistrates bench said if he had to choose between the D and the police he would always believe in the police. Therefore cases may not be fairly and consistently decided.
The Panel of Magistrates might be unduly influenced by the Justices Clerk
As Magistrates are not legally trained there is a risk that they allow the Justices Clerk to decide the case. For example in the case of R v Eccles. The convictions in this case were quashed (overturned on appeal) due to the participation of the clerk in the magistrate's decision to convict – he was the 4th Magistrate when there should only be 3 untrained Magistrates making the decisions. The Clerk’s role can lead to the Magistrates’ role being undermined.
The training of magistrates is inconsistent and can undermine the criminal justice system
Training of magistrates seems to vary from region to region and can be described as a "geographical lottery”. It seems to depend upon the time and enthusiasm of the clerk. This can lead to poorly trained Magistrates making inconsistent decisions made in different cases.
Task: Complete the following essays:
Discuss the advantages of using lay magistrates in the criminal justice system (10).
Discuss the dis advantages of using lay magistrates in the criminal justice system (10).
Task: Complete the quiz testing all your knowledge on Magistrates selection, training, advantages and disadvantages.