Importance of judicial independence

The Magistrates Court is the lowest tier of criminal court in England and Wales, dealing with about ninety-eight per cent of all criminal cases. Almost all cases are tried by Justices of the Peace (JPs). They are appointed by the Lord Chancellor for the Crown, on the recommendation of local committees. Potential JPs are nominated on the basis of their judgement and character or can apply to advertisements in local newspapers. To qualify you must be between 18 and 65 years old and live within 15 miles of the court; hence they come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

JPs are not professionally qualified, nor are they paid, but they are assisted by professional clerks, who are fully qualified lawyers. The Magistrates Commission Committees are responsible for providing training under the supervision of the Judicial Studies Board. The Training is to familiarise them with court procedure, techniques of chairing and theory and practice of sentence. They undergo a short induction course on appointment and have to continue basic training for twelve hours every three years. However, some cases in the Magistrates Courts are tried by professionally qualified full-time stipendiary magistrates.

The Crown Court, tries more serious criminal cases, as well as hearing appeals from the Magistrates Courts. It sits in permanent centres throughout England and Wales each centre being designated as first, second or third tier, reflecting the seriousness of the offences tried. Trial of cases is by a jury of twelve people selected at random from the electoral register. They are directed on matters of law by a judge, who may be any one of High Court Judges, Circuit Judges, Recorders and Assistant Recorders (the latter two being part-time appointments).

All of these have previously been solicitors or barristers and have been selected and appointed by the Lord Chancellor; they receive no training as they are assumed to have knowledge through their profession. The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) sits in London at the Royal Courts of Justice. It deals with appeals from the Crown Court and is presided over by the Lord Chief Justice who is the most senior judge in England and Wales. The Court of Appeal is normally constituted by any three of the Lord Justice of Appeal and the Lord Chief Justice.

The twenty-five Lord Justices of Appeal are assisted by High Court judges when it is required. These judges have received no further training than the previously mentioned ones they are just deemed to have a lot of experience so therefore qualify. Civil Courts The County Courts of England and Wales, deal with cases of lesser value, importance and complexity. Indeed, claims of under 1,000 can be dealt with by the increasingly popular small claims procedure, which provides for informal arbitration.

Parties in such proceedings are encouraged to handle small claims by themselves, rather than being formally represented by an advocate. In the County Court formal cases are heard before District Judges, who hear uncontested and smaller value claims; higher value claims being dealt with by Circuit Judges. Each court is assigned at least one District and one Circuit Judge, whom has been selected by the Lord Chancellor. District and circuit judges are legally qualified as they are solicitors or barristers, but still receive no formal training in the domain of judiciary.

The High Court sits at the Royal Courts of Justice and at County Courts around the country. It deals principally with more substantial and complex civil cases. Land, property and inheritance matters are dealt with by its Chancery Division, along with patent issues and industrial disputes. The Queen's Bench Division deals with common law business such as tort and contractual disputes. There is also a Family Division. Appeal is to the Court of Appeal (Civil Division), which also hears appeals from the County Courts and from tribunals.

The Court of Appeal (Civil Division), which is housed in the Royal Courts of Justice, is constituted from two or three Lord Justices of Appeal, and may include the Master of the Rolls. Again these judges are well qualified in matters of law and have gained much judicial experience; however they have never received any training. 1b). A judge is a public official appointed to make life-changing decisions regarding the futures of members of the general public. So is it not unreasonable for one to assume that a vital criterion for this responsibility is the need to be familiar with the lives of ordinary people and the situations they face?

In reality there is a coherent argument to suggest that Judiciary is in fact totally unrepresentative and out of touch with society. However, there have been recent attempts to resolve and improve the situation, but the principal point that remains is whether or not these endeavours have proven successful. There is a considerable difference in the number of male judges compared to female judges; this becomes increasingly evident the higher up the court structure.

For example there are only eight female Lord Justices of Appeal compared with thirty-five males and no women at all in the High Court as Lord of Appeal in the Ordinary; this is quite obviously a disproportionate number in relation to society. There is a good deal of evidence demonstrating unsympathetic attitudes of male judges particularly in rape cases, a popular opinion is that women are 'asking for it' through provocative dress or behaviour. The views of male judges regarding women are sometimes outdated, and prejudiced, for example in a rape case in 1982 a judge was recorded to have said 'women who say no do not always mean no'.