Justice is significant for safety, security and prosperity of a state. In English legal system, the contribution of magistrates’ courts can be neither ignored nor over-estimated, as they are the representatives of their local communities and permanent part of the judicial system (Thomson, 1995). The existence of magistrates in English judicial system aims to provide the community a safer and secure environment as they deal with the small minority of people committing crime and other anti-social behavior. The magistrates instantly and effectively respond to child cases and provide help to those people in solving the disputes in a fair manner. Since, magistrates show specific commitment towards public service while making their respective communities a safer and a better place (Lucas, 2009). However, magistrates in English legal system are symbol of giving fair verdict being decisive and capable to using reasons. In order to execute their duties and responsibilities, they are able to make great contribution to the security and safety of community. However, magistrates are with specialist knowledge and expertise they are helped by their court staff for carrying out court trials effectively. Thus, magistrates’ courts form a significant and valued part of the legal system in England. The process of summary in the magistrates’ courts is quick (Purnell and Petre, 2000) and cheap but it is constant under criticism. Such criticisms are of the major concerns of the law studies and it emphasizes that more research should be conducted that regards the advantages and disadvantages of having magistrates make decisions of the guilt of the defendant. Many studies have regarded the magistrates’ courts as alternatives of courts in which poor or financially low people cannot afford to have their trials be justified by experienced judges. Moreover, magistrates are not found to be principally but necessary because of community base work (Thomson, 1995). The main concern of this research paper is to identify the importance of magistrates’ courts in the legal system of England while also considering the position of magistrates in regards to their knowledge and expertise. Order assignment writing service for all your writing needs.
Should Amateurs Magistrates’ Courts Decide Matters of Vital Concerns to the Citizen?
In England, the magistracy and magistrates is the core of the legal system for delivering the justice and decreasing the anti-social behavior of the particular individuals. They play an important role in dealing with approximately 90% of all criminal cases in England and Wales. This rate only include the crimes that are reported while there are many crimes, which are never reported (Robson, 2009). However, it is significant to consider how magistrates’ court function to deal with such workloads. According to Robson (2009), the courts have more than 30,000 unpaid non-legally qualified volunteers to assist the office of justice of peace and 300 paid lawyers to assist the District Judges and Deputy District Judges. As far as the competency of Justice of Peace is concerned, they have long history of tendency of corruption. Moreover, the bulk work of magistrates’ courts is about minor offences, they are allowed to use limited power specifically when it comes to power of sentencing.
Answering the question about allowing the lay magistrates taking decision of the mattes without any legal concerns may lead to misunderstanding that government is not supportive to resolve important issue of citizens. However, the most essential concern of the citizen is no formal legal qualification of magistrates while decisions being made with the advice of legal advisor reduce the credibility of the magistrates. Studies have demonstrated that many of decisions made by magistrates are prosecution bias in which conviction rate is higher than in other courts. The considerable inconsistency in decision of different lay magistrates can lead to controversy regarding reliability and credibility of decisions of magistrates. Such sentences greatly vary between different magistrates of court due to no legal basis of decisions.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Magistrates Decisions of the Guilt of the Defendant
The magistrates’ courts are the essential part of judicial system and involve such member of community with wider cross-section of society rather than professional judges (Malsch, 2009). However, lay magistrates are likely to be middle class and middle aged individuals, they are considered as middle minded and they are not able to take legal decisions of the guilt of the defendant. It is argued that magistrates are not actual cross section of the community and can have little common with the working class defendant who forms the majority. Against the argument, it is stated that 47% of the magistrates are women, which is comparable with 5% of the professional judges (Lucas, 2009). However, there is lack of ethnic minority magistrates; the involvement of magistrates’ judiciary is more than main judiciary. Magistrates are considered as aware of local information regarding particular problems, which certainly helps them to make decisions but many of magistrates are from professional classes and they know little about the local community and unable to serve effectively in relation to making decision of the guilt of the defendant. One of the setbacks of magistrates’ courts is their inefficiency and inability regarding legal knowledge, which is often offset by advice of office clerk (Malsch, 2009). This prevents the inconsistency in sentencing because the clerk cannot help the magistrates to take decision on a sentence. Since, in the magistrates’ courts, there are three lay judges, who are unqualified lawyers or single district judge, who is a qualified lawyer. Lay judges as well as district judge hear the evidence regularly in the courts, it is argued that decision made by magistrates’ judges as well as district judges is suspected due to the approach they have to the evidence (Lucas, 2009). However, it is general assumption that lay magistrates are more compassionate in the sentence they pass than stipendiary magistrates are. This reduces the credibility of their decisions made for guilt of the defendant. However, it is generally considered that long delays before courts cause different problems and in the criminal cases if bail is refused it is held on remand awaiting trials. Long delays in the court trials can lead to assume defendant as innocent until guilty is proved.
Therefore, magistrates are less likely to refuse for bails even if their decision might risk to the community. There could be different argument on the advantages and disadvantages of related to decision such as delays in trials leads to lack of public confidence in the system and further increased frustration. Thus, the price paid for long period delays is distress and disruptions. The judges of magistrates’ courts are more likely to depend on the advice office clerk to make decisions and the magistrates’ court judges represent those decisions (Welsh, 2003). This can reduce the credibility of the judgment or verdict of the magistrates’ courts. In addition, the involvement of lay magistrates makes the decision to reach as a group decision rather than decision of single judge while these lay magistrates are selected from their respective community and have little qualification. The verdicts of lay magistrates are taken as coming from the society or community rather than just a judicial system. One of the disadvantages of lay magistrates is that the decision made by them is not consistent from one to another bench. However, this can be manifest if two similar cases appear before different benches focusing on similar offenders while bail decision might vary. The involvement of lay magistrates forces the courts to be known of community concerns and verdict is given based on their consciences instead of rule of law.
The Future of Lay Magistrates in the Court System
Lay magistrates are considered very important for the magistrates’ courts as they deal with large majority of criminal cases in the legal system of England (Gibson and Gordon, 2001). Most of the criminal cases start in the Magistrates’ Court is heard by lay magistrates’ court. In the context of legal issues, they are obliged to maintain essential principles of the legal system of trial by peers. Due to such great contribution of lay magistrates, they are considered as strength of English legal system. The system enables the ordinary person to participate in the administration of justices. However, studies have shown that there is little awareness in public about the role and importance of lay magistrates in court system, which puts the future of lay magistrates on suspect. In order to evaluate the future of lay magistrates in the English courts, there is need to understand the role and further strength of the lay magistrates as in English legal system, there are about 29,000 Lay Magistrates. These lay magistrates are unpaid volunteers who are appointed by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and the Lord Chancellor on the advice of the Local Advisory Committees. However, lay magistrates work part time and have 26 half days per year; there is no legal restriction on the formal legal qualification of the lay magistrates. This might be threatening to the future of the lay magistrates who are appointed to serve but not based on their legal qualification. The appointment of lay magistrates based on their good character, sound judgment, commitment and reliability is not a sufficient criterion, as court trial and verdict require judges to know the legal principles and complications. It is argued that since lay magistrates are volunteer and they are unpaid therefore requiring no formal legal qualification is fair with them. The future of lay magistrates may largely depend on the fulfillment of other requirements such as good character, understanding and communication, social awareness, maturity and sound temperament and sound judgment. The fulfillment of other formal requirements may also play an important role in the determination of future of the lay magistrates such as having no serious criminal record, not to be un-discharged bankrupt and member of armed force. Since lay magistrates are appointed based on the non-legal formal qualification, the appointment becomes crucial as the Local Advisory Committees have make a proper check on the fulfillment of criteria of the volunteer. Historically, the term lay magistrates has been used for distinct justice of the peace from the district judges. Moreover, it has been used for delivering the fact that magistrates are no longer the member of the legal profession. However, the government in England has confirmed that the use of term lay does not properly demonstrate the conscientious and professional attitude of the magistracy. Magistrates have to experience extensive training and ongoing rigorous post appointment appraisal. The appointment of 1,500 lay magistrates every year signifies that there should be legal framework in the English legal system under which, lay magistrates are regarded as legally professional and reliable magistrates rather than just volunteers.
Magistrates are Representative of their Communities
Magistrates are individuals from different education backgrounds and professions. They represent their personal integrity and hold good information of their community. However, they are with the ability to listen to every side of the cases and endeavor to contribute fairly and reasonable. They are trained to give their verdict according to the requirements of office; they reflect the community they represent along with fulfilling the merit criteria. When it comes to minority groups, magistrates must reflect their community by representing prominent area of minority ethnics such as age, gender, social class, ethnicity and political affiliation. Many studies have acknowledged that magistracy is not wholly representative of the community and they are not reflection of the population either nationally or local communities. Lay magistracy can be a symbol of active engagements of the citizens in the justice administration as difference between district judges and lay magistrates is diminishing. Different studies have demonstrated that magistrates are not representative in age, social class and ethnicity while Local Advisory Committee endeavors to make it possible that more magistrates are appointed who are representative of their community and consider the community interest as rule of justice. In order to encourage further community members to become lay magistrates and act as community representatives, the government of UK has greatly supported the important work of thousands of magistrates. These lay magistrates have different community links in their private and professional life offering evidence for just community.
The paper identified and examined the credibility and reliability of magistrates’ court and magistrates in the light of the English legal and judiciary system. Since there is no formal legal qualification for lay magistrates, it increases the vulnerability of magistrates’ courts in regards to their decisions and future in the legal system of England (Gibson and Watkins, 2009). Further research is suggested to consider the effectiveness of lay magistrates in the legal system of England that could determine the position of magistrates’ court in the country.