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The Role And Powers Of Lay Magistrates In Criminal Cases

1173 words - 5 pages

The Role and Powers of Lay Magistrates in Criminal Cases

1a) Describe the role and powers of lay magistrates in criminal cases.

b) Consider whether lay magistrates are adequately trained for their
work.

1a) Describe the role and powers of lay magistrates in criminal cases.

For centuries the criminal justice system has allowed lay people;
people who are not legally qualified to administer justice to the
civilian population. Lay magistrates are otherwise known as Justices
of the Peace. Lay magistrates work is mainly connected to criminal
cases although they also deal with some civil matters, especially
family cases. Firstly, it is to be noted that lay magistrates only
perform their duties about once a fortnight. Despite being lay members
within the law, they try 97% of all criminal cases and deal with
preliminary hearings in the remaining 3% of criminal cases, these
involve Early Administrative Hearings, remand hearings, bail
applications, sentencing and transfer proceedings.

Lay magistrates also deal with commitals, magistrates can commit a
defendant charged with a triable either way offence for the sentence
to the Crown Court at the end of the case having heard the defendants
past record, they feel that their powers of punishment are
insufficent.

Lay magistrates have a fairly wide discretion as to the sentence they
select in each case although they are subject to certain restrictions.
Magistrates can only impose a maximum sentence of six months
imprisonment for one offence, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows
this to be increased to twelve months, and a maximum fine of £5000.

In theory lay magistrates are volunteers, who sit as a bench of two or
three in the magistrates court overseeing either summary or triable
either way offences, the size of the pannel has been limited to a
maximim of three, whereas before in 1996 there could be up to seven
magistrates sitting together to hear a case. Unlike other members of
the judiciary, their role and functions have limitations. As
individuals, lay magistrates may authorise search and arrest warrants,
but mainly their functions are performed as a bench of three. This may
include hearing applications for bail or be in charge of committal
proceedings. In trial, they decide the facts, the sentence and the
law, though the concluding is under the advice of the justice's clerk.

The clerk otherwise known as the legal adivisor has to be qualified as
a barrister or solicitor for at least five years. The clerk’s duty is
to guide the magistrates on the question of law, practice and
procedure. The clerk can not assist in the decision making and should
not normally retire with the magistrates when they make their
discisions. Clerks deal with ruotine admistrative matters such as
issuing warrents for arrest, extend poilce bail, adhourn...

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