Addressing the issue of using Magistrates In the English judicial system
Magistrates have been critised for many years now, along with the use of Magistrarates and the powers in which they prosess. There has been major political debates on the usage of Magistrates.
Magistrate are members of society whom give up some of their spare time to hear cases in Magistrates courts, they limited powers of judges. To become a Magistarate is not very hard you have too fit a certain criteria and go through a traning process. I personally have had very little to do with Magistrates as I would believe many of you have. My anuty has just became a magistrate and this intrested me, and provoke me into finding out more. My aunty you see is a very nice person but the idea that she is involved in decided what punishements criminals recieve rather shocks and frightens me.
A lot of people say that there are many benefit to Magistrates and Magistrates courts. They are reletively cheap to run and Magistrates are not paid for the work that they do. The cost of replaceing Magistrates with stipendiary magistrates (quilifed legal proffessionals) is estimated at one million a year. The cost of a trial in the Magistrates court is also much cheaper than in other courts. So it makes sense to have magistrates if they are filling a role in a good and proper way. But are they?
It is suggested that Magistrates invloved members of the community and so therefore is a good cross section of society compared to proffessional judges. 47% of Magistrates are women compared to only 5% of professional judges and even though there is still a shortage of ethnic minority magistrate it is said that there are still far more than in the main Judiciary. So be saying this I am able to see that Magistrates would be benefical for society, having a wider cross section of society deciding case should give use fairer decisions. However some people argue that lay magistrates tend to me middle class, and middle aged, and that infact they are not a true cross section of society, and have little in common with the young working cass which a majoriety of defendants tend to me.
I am able to see that this could be true. What type of people become magistrates? I suppose that it is people that have come to a certian age and are looking for something different to do with there spare time. If they have this much spare time that they are able to fulfil this role they are more than likely going to be middle class and upper class and middle aged. But does it make a difference if they are middle classed and middle ages?. I would suggest that there would be no difference the from having judges hear cases. They are all off a certain age and class.
It is also suggested that because magistrates have to live within 5 miles of the court area that they are going to have local knowlege of the poorer areas and problem areas and so therefore are going to be much more able to hear cases and decide them more fairly. I feel that this would be a good thing, the mitigating cercumstance in some cases should not go unoticed. And by have people who are hearing the case having there own personal knowelege of a area this could be a great benefit. However again it is argued that infact Magistrates all coming from middle class area’s have no idea of what is going on in the problem area, very few of them are going to be living in such area’s. Again this arguement makes sense to me, if I believe as I do that a large mjority of magistrates are from middle class background then I also believe that it is unlikely that they are going to be living in the poorer area’s. Again though is this really any different then from having a judge hear the case instread of a magistrate I think not.
I feel that personal Judges and Magistrates have a lot in common in the fact that they are both going to be coming from a certian background and lifestyle and so therefore the only difference in having a magistrate hear a case rather than a judge is one million pounds a year, hopefully money that is being put to better use.
However this is not the only difference between a judge and a magistrate. There is one other difference one huge difference and that is that a judge is a legal professional and a lay magistrate is not. A judge has spent many year training to become a legal proffessional and then more years working as one before becoming a judge, there knowelege of the law is huge where as a magistrates knowledge of the law is pretty non existant.
It is said though that improved training means that magistrates are not complete amatures. Although again this statement is crticised. It is said that training is variable in quality and inadequte for the workload of a magistrate. With training being off such poor quality there is going to be variations in the sentencing and bail ganting between difference benches. Cosistancy within the law is off the up most importants, If we have variations in sentencing and bail grants then there is going to be no way of peolple knowing what the law is and what happens if you break it. And I am sure we are all able to agree that if this is the case society is at a loss with the law.
However I am forgetting one major point and that is that magistrates have the use of a court clerk. This is a legal quilifed proffession and they are able to advice magistrate on the law. So with the law being show to the magistrates they are able to make the decision inwhich they make accurate and according to the law. Although having a clerk involved in explaining the law is not going to prevent inconsistance within the law, as the clerk is not allowed to advice magistrates of sentencing. So again we have the same dilemma.
There are many pros and cons of the usage of magistrates and there are many studies that have been complete. However I feel that the major issues at that magistrates are no different to judges in provinding a wider cross section of society. There are though not legal trained.
I feel that to decided whether to remain using magistrates or abloish them is a very complex case and the decision should not be made in hast, They are some obvious problems with the use of magistrates but I personally feel that this could be corrected with better training and them being able to use the court clerk more.
Would one million pounds be used better elsewhere or is this just anotherway of the government saving money and skimping on our justice system?