Criminal Law Review Analysis Paper Example

Despite this though, many have raised the debate regarding the judicial system to lack representation of class diversity. The Report of the Royal Commission on the Justices of the Peace in 1948 depicted that more than three-quarters of Magistrates held professional or middle class occupations. [21] Frankly, within the contemporary lay magistracy, the socio-economic has proved to remain an issue. This may be exemplified throughout Morgan and Russell findings: where in a metropolitan deprived region- 79% of the lay magistracy were of managerial, professional occupations.

However, this socio-economic population within the region was only 20%. [22] This may be on the grounds of employment- where some employers are willing to provide time-off work for employees to serve on the bench. In addition to this, the fact that the role requires an ability to understand and communicate, identify the relevance within the nature of facts and follow up evidence/arguments ultimately characterises an “old boy network” selection process; and working class members of society subsequently do not relate to such a role.

Others factors may be simply due to the idea that the Lay Magistracy is solely voluntary and unpaid. This substantiates the long standing criticism that the Magistracy consists of “middle class, middle minded, middle aged” members of society and are prosecution biased or readily accept the word of the police. [23] The fundamental factor to draw upon here is whether such socio-backgrounds affect the inconsistencies in sentence disposals. For many years, the government had also adopted a policy to inquire on an applicant’s political affiliation, to assure social and political balance within the lay magistracy.

It was highlighted that followers of the Conservative party outweighed those voting for Labour, in light of the characteristics of the Magistracy; at which stage working class had on the majority voted for Labour, whilst the middle/upper middle class were Conservative voters. [24] However, in light of the consultation paper issues in 1998[25], this method was scrapped during the latter of 2003, and replaced with the question of employment instead, in the attempt of achieving a balance according to the society of the contemporary day. [26]

In respect to the lack of representation, the government has issued a white paper[27], proposing the recruitment of younger magistrates, since currently only 4% of magistrates are under 40 years of age. [28] Darbyshire also found that the Magistracy consisted within an age bracket nearing the retirement age. [29] ‘…it is important that bench has balance of sexes, professions and political allegiances…’[30] In 2005, the judicial statistics proved evidently that there appeared a balance on the issue of gender: 14519 were men and 14346 were women.

[31] This clarifies a general figure calculating the gender balance within England and Wales. However, the fact is on a panel three lay Magistrates, the ratio may appear 2:1 (female to male, vice versa, or a dominant gender group sitting as a panel). This may result in a partial bias during the decision making process, where the dominant gender may be more inclined to dispose sentences, provided the nature of the case.

Furthermore then, the question whether the magistracy is one that is representativeness of the ethnic minority has been raised. Lay participation is essentially a method which allows the ordinary member of society to partake within the English Legal System, to provide those accused of crime with a just, fair and impartial decision. Besides this, it is crucial that the legal system sheds a societal spectrum; hence a cross section of society must be represented. Morgan and Russell stated that:

‘…the composition of the lay Magistracy is now approaching ethnic representativeness, that is 2% black, 2% of Indian sub-continent or Asian origin and 1% other – as against 94 white, 2% black, 3% Indian sub-continent or Asian origin and 1% other’[32] Although statistical figures indicate a fair representation of the ethnic groups, with the magistracy accounting for 6% and society- 7. 9%[33], the majority of defendants still believe that the magistracy is yet predominantly ‘white, male bastion’.

Defendants of ethnic minorities have stressed that they would like to see more Magistrates partaking within the criminal proceedings. [34] To conclude then, the lay magistracy does prove to play a significant part of the English legal system, given the fact that the bulk of criminal cases are dealt before them. The focal agenda in which the government should aim to achieve is a magistracy which reflects society, on the balances of socio-economic background, sex, ethnicity and so fourth.

The core value such a participation serves is not only to alleviate extortionate costs, but also to reach just decisions, in finalising a trial. With a system which indicates a high level of inconsistencies in sentence disposals, such an issue may be a factor consequent to the high numbers in middle class magistracy. Offenders within deprived regions are bound to be of a working class or underclass social background- this clearly indicates the level of inadequacy and social imbalance between an offender and a magistrate.

Despite professional judges possessing legal knowledge, magistrates in general acquire similar characteristics. However, two heads are better than one, therefore the basic idea of three magistrates sitting as a panel is bound to create a balanced view or decision likely to result. Reforms should be considered to the extent that ethnic minority members are representatives on each bench[35], rather than unifying the magistracy as one professed full time role.


  • Access to Justice Act 1999, (c. 2) Criminal Law Review, (1997) Criminal Law Review, (May 1999) Department of Constitutional Affairs (2005)
  • Judicial Statistics Annual Report. Cm. 6799. London: Stationary Office. Department for Constitutional Affairs (2005) ‘Supporting Magistrates’ Courts to Provide Justice’. Cm. 6681. London: Stationary Office Doran,
  • S & Jackson, J (2000) The Judicial Role in Criminal Proceedings(eds. ). Oxford: Hart Publishing. Elliot, C & Quinn, F (2007) The English Legal System (8th Edition). Essex: Pearson Education Limited: