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'consider What You Think Are The Key Aims Of A Criminal Trial And Explain, With Reasons, The Extent To Which You Think The Crown Court Or Magistrates’

1689 words - 7 pages

Within criminal court proceedings, there are two key aims that need to be upheld. Firstly, the trial should be fair, most importantly with respect to the consistency of judgments that are given for comparable offences; additionally, judges and juries must fully consider each case individually. Secondly, a judgment ought to come from a body that is representative of the local population; those making judgments should be without any prejudices that would obstruct the application of justice. This essay will argue that magistrates are fundamentally poorer at addressing these aims; the Crown court accomplishes them much more effectively.
There is evidence to suggest that magistrates’ verdicts are inconsistent. J. Lawrence looks at a study involving seven magistrates who were asked to consider six fictional cases of shoplifting and to explain what their verdicts would be with regards to each. Their responses varied greatly; across the seven magistrates it was generally seen that they saw the shoplifters as ‘Greedy’, ‘Needy’ or ‘Troubled’. With regards to a single case involving the theft of clothes by a young woman, three magistrates had particularly polarized views. One magistrate stated that the offender took ‘luxuries’ and was therefore greedy; another magistrate agreed that they were luxuries, but asserted that she stole because of her ‘disturbed state’, labeling her as ‘Troubled’. The last stated that ‘financial need’ had caused her to steal, seeing the shoplifter as being ‘Needy’. Lawrence goes on to say that the magistrate who saw the defendant as being ‘Troubled’ gave nominal sentences 34.31% of the time. In comparison, two magistrates who saw the offender as ‘Greedy’ gave nominal sentences only 8% and 5.85% of the time. This highlights a tangible inconsistency within the magistrate’s verdicts; a shoplifter’s sentence would simply depend on which magistrates heard their case. Fortune is not justice, but the Lawrence’s study would have us believe that this is the case with regards to the magistracy. However, the study is perhaps unreliable because it only examined seven magistrates across two courts. A much wider range of data would be required to prove that this was the case for the majority of magistrates. Therefore, it cannot be said that the study conclusively demonstrates that all magistrates are inconsistent, thus unfair, in their judgments.
Notwithstanding this, Crown Court proceedings still appear fairer than magistrates’ hearings, as juries are more apt at dealing with cases on a singular basis. Sanders2 states that lay (unpaid) justices ‘sit in court once-a-week, some sit twice a week, and all sit at least once a fortnight.’ Compared to ‘predominantly once-in-a-lifetime jurors’ who ‘come fresh’ to the Crown Court. Whilst magistrates may not be professionals they are more hardened when it comes to hearing cases than jurors that serve their purpose and then ‘return to their normal occupations’.3 Magistrates’ courts see the same kind...

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