Evaluate the Effectiveness of Lay People in the Courts

Throughout the United Kingdom Lay Magistrates are used within our courts and legal system in relation to sentencing criminals. They work within the Magistrates court dealing with summary offences, triable-either way offences and they also deal with starting off indictable offences which will then be sentenced in the Crown Court. Lay Magistrates come from local areas and when appearing at a court they would usually gather three Lay Magistrates.

This is in order for the Lay Magistrates to come together in relation to making a final decision, towards making their final decision they are able to receive guidance from the court clerk due to the Lay Magistrates lack of knowledge within legal qualifications. When evaluating the effectiveness of Lay people there are many positives and negative aspects within this. Firstly when evaluating the effectiveness of Lay Magistrates they can create a positive effect towards the court and legal system. Lay Magistrates are seen to provide a sample of representation of their society.

The system involves members of the community to become Lay Magistrates which allows a wider variety and opinion of society being involved within courts comparing to judges and fully qualified Magistrates. However in the court system Lay Magistrates tend to involve middle class citizens which may be focused towards negative opinions towards offenders from different backgrounds. In a recent study it revealed a majority of Lay Magistrates are belonging to an older age group, however this may create a negative effect.

Due to the majority of offences involving young offenders and the younger generation having older Lay Magistrates may result in them having negative views towards these young youths and this will be a negative effect towards the court. Young offenders who face cases from Lay Magistrates is a negative outcome as all individuals who break the law comparing to younger offenders may receive unfair treatment, this may involve a lighter sentence and younger offenders receiving harder sentences.

For example, Lay Magistrates who are older may have a negative view towards young individuals due to being apart of the community and this may result in acting unprofessionally. If a younger offender commits a petty theft she/he may receive a harder sentence from a Lay Magistrate comparing to an older offender who commits the same offence. Another aspect when evaluating the effectiveness of Lay Magistrates involves them having local knowledge of the area in which they live in. Due to Lay Magistrates having to live locally they will have the local knowledge within the area and also cases in which they deal with.

This creates a positive effect within the criminal courts as the lay magistrates know particular problems which may arise in their local area. Due to this Lay magistrates may give past offenders or offences commonly committed within that area more acceptable sentences. This creates a positive effect as courts giving sentences which are acceptable due to their behaviour can teach offenders to take responsibilities for their actions and to reduce problems arising again within their local area.

This will reduce offences and cases which are brought to the court and this will also allow the courts to have an understanding within the cases in which they deal with. Lay Magistrates also affect the court system positively due to the cost issues within this. When using lay magistrates it will effectively reduce the cost as this cheap process involves the lay magistrates not being paid. If the court system however used qualified magistrates it will estimate an increase to the court system reaching around ? 100 million a year.

With the use of Lay Magistrates court systems can effectively reduce costs towards the courts which they can use towards essential requirements for court systems. An effective towards the court in which will affect it negatively involves the knowledge and training within this role. These individuals do not have the qualifications in which other magistrates have which will require lay magistrates to receive basic training in order to process making decisions towards sentences. With their lack of knowledge this may result in -Lenient sentences given -Sentences not stable -Relying on the court clerk -Inconsistent sentences.

-Longer to analyse cases and come to a decision Inconsistency in sentencing is due to the lack of knowledge in which lay magistrates obtain and this creates a negative effect towards the court system. If sentences are inconsistent this means that the role of courts is not being completed effectively as they should be. Lay magistrates who are faced with offences may come to final decisions towards sentences which may not be acceptable, if an individual commits an offence they must receive a sentence which is a punishment towards their behaviour however with the lack of knowledge which the lay magistrate has, sentences may be inconsistent.

Another aspect involving a lack of knowledge which affects the court system negatively due to lay magistrates is sentences being too light in comparison to the offence. Within the magistrates court they deal with summary offences and triable-either way offences in which they must work towards coming to an acceptable sentence, if a lay magistrates has a lack of experience comparing to the experience which qualified magistrates have this will result in sentences given being too lenient.

Scenario of fully qualified magistrate Sentencing a Summary Offence A male individual was arrested at Boots located in Bloomfield’s Shopping Centre; this was due to reasonable suspicions that the individual had committed an offence of theft from the store. The final total in which was totalled from the individual’s stolen goods in which he was in possession with was ? 9. 98. He was later given a date in which he should appear at The Magistrates Court in Newtownards, on appearing to this date he pleaded guilty to the district judge due to the amount of evidence and being caught on the scene.

Due to the Magistrates having the power to sentence this offence he received a fine of ? 200 in which he had to pay. If lay magistrates were to be dealing with this case and if they had a lack of knowledge the decision in which they come to may be too lenient comparing to the sentence/ fine in which the offender should have been given. This again will create a negative effect towards the courts as they are not completing their role in sentencing offenders and making sure the sentence is acceptable.

Due to the lack of experience which lay magistrates have comparing to magistrates they are able to receive the guidance from the court clerk who is legally qualified. This will create a positive effect towards the court as they are effectively using and implementing changes in order to use lay magistrates within the court system. However with the use of a court clerk it will not prevent inconsistent sentences to be reduced as the court clerk may provide advice however the lay magistrates must decide upon the sentence in which is given to the offender.

Another negative issue within the court when using the court clerk to advise lay magistrates is that they become dependant, the lay magistrates will become more reliant on the guidance in which they give them. If a fully qualified magistrate was put into the situations he/she would not have to receive advice in order to make a decision. When evaluating the effectiveness of lay magistrates the length in which lay magistrates analyse a case can create a negative outcome towards the court.

As lay magistrates work together to produce a sentence due to individuals breaking the law it takes a longer process for them to come towards a decision, this is in comparison to qualified magistrates who can make a final decision on their own account. Another way in which it increases the length of process when using lay magistrates is through the use of the court clerk, when the lay magistrates need the guidance from the court clerk it holds up the process in which takes to prosecute offenders.

Magistrates however who have qualifications and experience within prosecuting individuals can follow through these cases quicker comparing to lay magistrates. This will affect the courts as they can not sentence criminals as quick as others who are magistrates, courts will go through less cases due to this. For example a magistrate who deals with 5 cases a day can go through the evidence and proceeding involved with this relatively quick, he/she can come to a decision without the help of a court clerk and the sentence given will be effective to the courts role.

On the other hand when using lay magistrates they are to come to a decision together when discussing the elements throughout the case. This will take a longer process due to their lack of experience and knowledge, when experiencing difficulty they may receive guidance from the court clerk which again extends the process, this will result in the amount of cases in which they process to reduce throughout the courts.

When lay magistrates are faced with sentencing individuals they may be biased towards believing the police service involved in cases, this will create a negative effect on the court service. When a case is brought forward to the magistrate’s court the lay magistrates will have to decide upon giving their verdict and sentence due to this. When police officers are brought into cases lay magistrates may be bias towards sentencing the individuals as they will tend to believe the police officers over defendants in cases.

This can negatively affect the court service as individuals who are innocent may be wrongly convicted or wrongly sentenced, this will lead to a negative effect as individuals will appeal their case increasing money and court procedures. This involves individuals appealing their case, an appeal is a court process in relation to a formal change which may have been due to a hard sentence or wrongly convicted. Individuals who feel that they have been convicted wrongly or given a sentence too hard may appeal their case -Appeal for conviction.

-Appeal for sentence When appealing a case it will be taken to a court of appeal in order for the case to be processed, this is when the case will be reviewed and it may have a positive or negative outcome. The case could be reduced in sentence or the conviction changed, however this could result in the case receiving no change due to the case appeal falling through, this increases the work of the courts and also increases the spending of the courts due to lay magistrate’s decisions.