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Lay Magistrates formal requirements
- There are no formal legal qualifications required to become a member of the magistracy, however, a person must fulfill the following three formal requirements:
- be aged between 18 and 66 on appointments
- Live or work near the Local Justice Area they are allocated to
- Be prepared to commit to sitting at least 26 half days per year
Lay Magistrates disqualifications
- The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will not appoint certain people. Some examples of those not eligible or disqualified are:
- those with serious previous convictions or a number of minor offences
- undischarged bankrupts
- a serving police officer
- traffic wardens
- full-time members of the Armed Forces
- anyone whose work or community activity is incompatible with the duties of magistrate e.g. CPS or probation employee
- Relatives of those working in the local criminal justice system are not likely to be appointed as it would not appear 'just'
Lay Magistrates qualities
- If a person fulfills the above, there are six qualities which a candidate must have. These were set by the Lord Chancellor in 1998 and are:
- maturity and sound temperament
- commitment and reliability
- good character
- understanding and communication
- social awareness
- sound judgement
Selection and appointment of magistrates
- Appointments are made by the Lord Chancellor who relies on recommendations from the local advisory committees
- A person may apply directly for the position of Lay Magistrates or apply following advertisements in the press for the position.
- The application is made to the Local Advisory Committee (LAC) which is made up of existing magistrates and other local people maximum 12 members a third must be non-magistrates.
- An application must be completed and references will be taken up.
- The cadidate will have to undergo two interviews.
Selection and appointment of magistrates - Interview 1
- The LAC will check the candidate has the minimum eligibility requirements and look to see they have that they have the six key qualities.
- There will also be general questions asked to assess the candidate's attitude to various criminal justice issues such as for example drink driving.
Selection and appointment of magistrates - Interview 2
- This interview is practically based and involves testing the candidate's potential judicial aptitude.
- The candidate will be given scenarios and asked to rank them in order of severity and will also be given a more in-depth case study based on sentencing practice.
- If the candidate successfully completes both interviews and is deemed suitable, the LAC will submit the names to the Lord Chief Justice for approval before being submitted to the Lord Chancellor to make the appointment.
- The new magistrates are sworn in at an official ceremony, giving an oath of allegiance to the Queen
- They try 97% of criminal cases
- Deal with preliminary hearing in the remaining 3% which involves Early Administrative Hearings, remand hearings, bail applications and committal proceedings
- They also deal with civil matters which include the enforcing of debts owed to the utilities, non payment of council bills and non payment of tv licences.
- Youth Court: must be under 65 and must usually include a man and woman on the panel
- Family Court: include orders for protection against violence, affiliation cases, adoption orders and proceedings under the Children Act 1989
- Appeals: sit in crown court to hear appeals from the Mags court
Training of Magistrates
- The training of new magistrates is supervised by the Judicial College (formerly the Judicial Studies Board). The Court Act 2003 places a statutory obligation on the Lord Chancellor to provide training and training materials.
- The Magistrates' New Training Initiative (MNTI2) provides a competence framework which is divided into four areas of competency as follows:
- managing yourself
- Working as a team management
- Making judicial decisions
- Managing judicial decision (this competency is for Chairmen of the Bench)
First year training
- In the first year, a trainee magistrate must complete:
- Initial training - before sitting in court, the new magistrate is given introductory training on the basics of the role. They can then sit in court with experienced magistrates
- Mentoring - six formal mentored sittings in the first 12-18 months
- Core training - where the new magistrate must visit penal institutions and/or undertake court observations
- Consolidation training - this is at the end of the first year to build on the learning from the above and to prepare them for their first appraisal
- First appraisal - this takes place about 12-18 months after appointment and the mentor and magistrate agree he/she is ready and successfully deemed fully competent.
Extra training - magistrates
- Extra training will be provided for those unable to demonstrate they have achieved the competencies.
- If they continue not to achieve these competencies, then the LAC will recommend to the Lord Chancellor that the magistrate is removed from sitting.
Training sessions after the initial training
- organised and carried out at local levels
- Training delivered by Justices' Clerks
- This training is continues whilst they work (continuation training every three years)
- They are also appraised every 3 years to ensure that they maintain their competency to sit.
- They get an update training on changes in the law
- Youth Court and Family Court will be given extra training
- They will also receive extra training if they wish to become a Chairman and will be appraised for this role.
Retirement and Removal
- Magistrates retire at 70 years old; however, their names are added to the Supplementary List which means they can no longer sit in the Court but they can continue with some administrative duties.
- Under Section 11 Courts Act 2003, the Lord Chancellor has the power to remove a lay magistrate for incapacity, persistent failure to meet competency standards or if they are deemed to be neglecting their duties.
- A magistrate can also be removed for misbehaviour.
Magistrates work/role - Criminal juridiction
- Magistrates court try 97% of all criminal cases from start to finish.
- They deal with the other 3% of criminal cases at least at a preliminary level with early administrative hearings (remand hearing, bail applications and committal proceedings)/
- They deal with all summary matters - finding defendants not guilty or guilty and sentencing.
- In terms of triable-either-way matters, the lay magistrates will first undertake the 'plea before venue' procedure. If the defendant pleads guilty, then the lay magistrates will go ahead and sentence the defendant or pass the matter to the Crown Court for sentencing. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the lay magistrate will undertake a 'mode of trial hearing. During this they will decide whether or not they have sufficient jurisdiction to deal with the matter. If they decline jurisdiction, they will send the case for trial at the Crown Court.
- They deal with arrest and search warrants and extensions to detention time.
- Sit with judge in the Crown Court in hear appeals from the Magistrates Court
- Specially trained panels of magistrates deal with young offenders ages 10-17
Magistrates work/role - Civil jurisdiction
- Specially trained panels of magistrates sit in the Family Court to hear cases including order for protection against violence, affiliation cases, adoption orders and proceedings under the Children Act 1989
- Enforce debts owed to the utilities for example, electricity, gas and water
- Deal with non-payment of Council Tax and TV licences
- Hear appeals against the refusal of the Local Authority to grant a license for the sale of alcohol and licenses for betting and gaming establishments
Who else sits in a Magistrates' Court?
- District Judges
- Magistrates' Clerk
District judges (Magistrates' Court)
- District judges (Magistrates' Court) are members of the judicary who hear cases in magistrates' courts.
- They are usually appointed to courts in big cities and deal with the more complex matters coming before the magistrates' courts.
- The District Judge will have been a qualified barrister or solicitor for at least five years or a Fellow of ILEX.
The Magistrates' Clerk
- As the Magistrates are not legally qualified, the bench is assisted by a clerk who will act as a legal adviser to the court but cant participant in the decision-making process (R v Eccles Justice ex parte Farrelly (1992)
- The clerk will have been a qualified barrister or solicitor for at least five years.
- The clerk's duty is to guide the magistrates on questions of the law, practice and procedure set out in the s28 (3) of the Justices of the peace Act 1979.
- Also deal with routine administrative matters and can issue warrants for arrest, extend police bail, adjourn criminal proceedings.
- Also have the power to deal with Early Administrative Hearings
Advantages of magistrates
- Cost- cheaper than professional judges as unpaid (lay magistrates can only claim expenses and if they suffer loss of earnings, they may claim a loss allowance at a set rate).
- Cross-section of society - wider than the judiciary. Campaign to attract a wider cross-section.
- Local Knowledge - seen as an advantage as they will know the area well, including local crime 'hot spots'
- Few appeals - there are comparatively few appeals from the Magistrates' Court, which indicates few errors of law and that they do a good job.
- Legal adviser: have to have some legal qualifications which brings a higher level of legal skills to the magistrates court - overcomes the criticism of lay magistrates not being legally qualified.
Disadvantages of magistrates
- Prosecution bias - lay magistrates have a tendency to side with the police and prosecution and as a result, the overall acquittal rate is considerably lower than that of the Crown Court.
- Reliance on the clerk - some magistrates rely too heavily on the clerk for advice
- Inconsistency in sentencing - it has been said that it is a lottery as to what sentence you will receive. Some benches are more inclined to give custodial sentences, while another bench, for the same offence, is more likely to give community penalties.
- Middle-ages and middle class - a high percentage of lay magistrates are over the age of 40 and come from a managerial background. As a result, the bench is not a true cross-section of security
Comparing lay magistrates and district judges
- Qualifications and work
- advantages of using district judges
- disadvantages of using district judges
Comparing lay magistrates and district judges - qualifications and work
- Mags are not legally qualified DJ's are.
- mags only sit part time Dj sit full time
- mags are only paid expenses DJ are paid full salary
Comparing lay magistrates and district judges - Advantages of using DJ's
- Dj's are usually younger then mags
- Dj dealw ith cases more speedily than mags
- DJ's are able to deal with more complex cases
- one Dj could replace 30 lay mags
- Court users have more confidence in Dj's than mags
- Dj's are more consistent and use the correct procedure.
Comparing lay magistrates and district judges - Disadvantages of using DJ's
- DJ's are not likely to be from the local community not like the lay mags who have to live and work locally
- in a survey it showed that mags are better at showing courtesy, using simple language and showing concern to distressed victims
- DJ's are more likely to become 'case-hardened' however mags could also after a number of years
- DJs are more likely than mags to refuse bail
- Dj's are more likely than mags to impose an immediate custodial sentence
- the cost of replacing a mag with a DJ is estimated in 2000 to be over £23 million