Lay magistrates

The office of the justice of the peace is very old, dating back to the twelfth century at least. In 1195 Richard 1 appointed 'keepers of the peace'. By the mid-thirteenth century the judicial side of their position had developed and by 1361 the title justice of the peace was being used. Over the years they were also given many administrative duties, for example, being responsible for the poor law, highways and bridges, and weights and measures.

In the nineteenth century elected local authorities took over most of these duties, though some remnants remain, especially in the licensing powers of the magistrates' courts. Qualification In 1998, the Lord Chancellor set out six key qualities which candidates should have. They are; good character, understanding and communication, social awareness, maturity and sound temperament, commitment and reliability. They must have certain 'judicial' qualities. It is particularly important that they are able to assimilate factual information.

Lay magistrate must be aged between 21 and 65 on appointment. They must also live within the commission area of the court or within 15miles of the boundary. Some people are not eligible, which include people with serious criminal convictions, undischarged bankrupts and members of the forces cannot be appointed as magistrate. Appointment About 1,500 lay magistrates are appointed each year to one commission area only. The appointments are made by the Lord Chancellor or in Lancashire by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on behalf of the Queen.

The Lord Chancellor relies on recommendations made to him by the local advisory committees. The local advisory committees can advertise for individuals in the local community to put themselves forward. This method as been widely criticised because people that are appointed are middle-class, middle-aged and middle minded. There are also less ethnic minority and women. Training In 1998 the lay magistrates' new training initiative started. Under this new training, lay magistrate must have these achievements. These are;

The job of a lay magistrate is to listen to the evidence presented to them and then make a fair, objective and unbiased decision. They must ascertain the facts and then apply the law to them. Magistrates perform a wide variety of tasks when sitting in court. In criminal cases, for example, they have to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not, pass sentence on defendants found guilty, decide whether or not to grant bail, decide whether a case should be adjourned, or commit a defendant to the Crown court (the criminal court higher in authority than the magistrates' court).

Lay magistrates are part-timers but they must do at least 26 half days per year. They are unpaid but may claim expenses. DISTRICT JUDGES They are legally qualified. They must have practised as either a barrister or a solicitor for at least seven years. They are used as full-time, paid judges to hear cases in magistrate's courts in London and other big cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. They sit alone and have the same powers as a bench of lay magistrates. They are appointed by the Queen on recommendation of the Lord Chancellor.

The posts are advertised and candidates are interviewed by the Lord Chancellor department. Background There was a survey in 1999 which included 692 judges by labour research. They found out that 69% of judges had been to public school and 64% to Oxford or Cambridge University. The average age of the judiciary was 60. Retirement Since 1995, all judges' appointment must retire at the age of 70. This age was introduced by the judicial pensions and retirement act 1993.

Judges who have been appointed before this date can continue in office until the age of 75. District judges can work in county court and magistrate's court. They can be dismissed by the Lord Chancellor. Training The training of judges is carried out by the judicial studies board, which was set up in 1979. In 1993 the judicial studies board recommended that training should include racial awareness courses and it was accepted by the Lord Chancellor. The board has also introduced training in human awareness, covering gender awareness and disability issues.