Civil and criminal cases

People who are between 18-70 are randomly picked of the electoral roll to become a juror. They have no legal knowledge or training in law. People who have been in prison, served a community sentence or had an extended sentence will now qualify as a juror. Juries are used in crown court, county court or high court (for similar but more serious crimes) and coroners' court (which is only used in cases where a death has occurred in either prison, police custody or through an industrial accident). Different courts are used depending on if the case is civil or criminal. The jury listens to the case brought before them and then goes of to quiet room where they are left to decide their verdict. This is all extremely secret and no interference from the judge or anyone else who is not part of the jury is permitted.

The jury then announces their verdict and the judge decides the sentence for the defendant. The jury has four main purposes: 1) it does justice and decides whether the prosecution has proved its case against the defendant whom it is considering. 2) It helps ensure the quality and independence of the judges. 3) It gives protection against laws that the ordinary man or women may find oppressive. And 4) it helps insure the proper behaviour of investigating officers.

Magistrates Magistrates are also lay people (ordinary members of the public with no legal training) who give their time to the court voluntarily. They reside in the magistrate's court and sit in a panel of three to hear cases. The magistrates hear the case brought before them and then decide between themselves their verdict and the necessary course that should be taken. They are given some training in court procedures and advised at all times by the Court Clerk.

In conclusion, I have found out that both magistrates and juries play an important part in the legal system. The use of lay people in law brings across the view point of the ordinary man or women and lets them have a say in our country's justice. They also deal with the more trivial points of law, letting the legally qualified people to do their job more effectively. Magistrates also deal with 97% of all criminal cases and do the preliminary work for the remaining 3%, again lightening the work load for barristers and solicitors.

(b) Examine critically the arguments for and against the use of either juries or lay magistrates in the English legal system. Information on lay magistrates As I have previously mentioned a lay person is someone who has had no prior legal training. A lay magistrate resides in the magistrate's court and sits in a panel of three to hear cases. There are about 29,000 lay magistrates sitting as part time judges in the magistrate's court today. In 1998 the Lord Chancellor set out six key qualities which lay magistrates (or justices of the peace) should have. These include; Good character, understanding and communication, social awareness, maturity and sound temperament, sound judgement and commitment and reliability. They also have to be aged between 18 and 65 on appointment, and live or work near to the local justice area. Magistrates are chosen on these key features. Magistrates are require to work 26 half days, hence the requirement for commitment and reliability.

In criminal cases magistrates will control hearings, bail applications, committal proceedings, young offenders, issue search and arrest warrants and sentencing. In civil cases magistrates will look at the non- payment of council tax or TV licences; They also discuss arrangements for bail applications, committal proceedings, appeals for local grants for alcohol of gambling and debts owed to utilities and warrant issuing Magistrates have limited powers in sentencing because they only support minor offences. Unlike juries magistrates do receive some training.

Appointment of lay magistrates. Unlike jurors lay magistrates are not picked at random from the electoral role. Instead those wishing to become a lay magistrate have to apply at their local court. You can apply to be a magistrate between the age of 18 and 65, but it is very unusual for people to become magistrates before the age of 27. This is because the role of a magistrate is voluntary and not many people under the age of 27 (probably even older) can afford to become one. Also the magistrate's position isn't advertised as much as it should be, consequently hindering people finding out about it.

The local advisory committees look at all of the applications given in to them that they think will be suitable. People who have serious criminal convictions are automatically disqualified from being a magistrate, so are the deaf and blind. This is necessary because there may be evidence that would need to be seen or heard. The local advisory committee then schedules interviews with the prospective magistrates to try and discover if they have the qualities needed. After the interview process they compose a list of suitable candidates that have passed the interview stage. This list is then handed on to the Lord Chancellor who picks the names of those he wants to become magistrates. This process is much criticised and I will go on to it in further detail later on in the essay.


As I have mentioned before magistrates, unlike jurors, do receive some training before they begin their duties (although they are still classed as lay people). This training is supervised by the magistrates committee of the judicial studies board. The training takes four years and consists of seven stages. The first of these seven stages is the initial core training and activities. This stage covers such matters as the understanding of the organisation of the bench and the responsibilities of those involved in the court. It also provides the new magistrate an opportunity to develop the key skills and also to observe court sittings.

The second stage is the first sitting. This stages name is really self explanatory. It involves sitting in on a case and having the trainee make their own judgement outside of the court. Then there is the mentored sitting, which is stage three. In this stage of the training the potential magistrate is monitored in a sitting by an already qualified and experienced magistrate. In this sitting they have to keep a personal development log of their progress.

Stage four is the consolidation training. This stage of the training takes 9-12 months and consists of judicial studies where the local justice's clerk will cover each aspect. After this is stage five, the appraisal. In this appraisal, the MCJSB looks at whether or not the trainee has acquired the necessary skills needed to become a magistrate. Then there are the last two stages of the training, the magistrates being able to sit in court and also the three year continuation training followed by another appraisal. The last stage is necessary because the magistrate needs to be kept up to date with the ever-changing law. This goes on for three years and then there is another appraisal. After this period the training becomes less frequent.