Police and Background

Hence, the disadvantages of Lay Magistrates are as follows Inconsistent, Inefficient, Bias towards the police and Background. There is considerable inconsistency in the decision-making difference Benches. This is noticeable in the differences in awards of state funding and the types of sentences ordered. To achieve the fundamental goal of a fair trial similar crime committed in similar circumstances by offenders with similar backgrounds should receive a similar punishment.

In 1985, the Home Office noted in Managing Criminal Justice that, though Benches tries to ensure their own decisions were consistent, they did not strive to achieve consistency with other Benches. It is also regarded as Inefficient. Most of the public sampled in the research by Rod Morgan and Neil Russell(2000) were largely unaware that there were two types of Magistrate.

When enlightened and questioned, a majority considered that magistrates court work should be divided equally between the two types of magistrate or that they type of magistrate did not matter. Bias towards the police is apparently unjustified. Police officers are frequent witnesses, and become well known to members of the Bench, and it is alleged that this results in an almost automatic tendency to believe police evidence.

One magistrate was incautious enough to admit this in R v Bingham KK, ex parte Jowitt (1974), a speeding case where the only evidence was that of the motorist and a police constable, the chairman of the Bench said: 'Quite the most unpleasant cases that we have to decide are those where the evidence is a direct conflict between a police officer and a member of the public. My principle in such cases has always been to believe the evidence of the police officer, and therefore we find the case proved'. The conviction was quashed on appeal because of this remark.

Background served as a disadvantage because the magistrates should come from varied social backgrounds, and are to be predominantly white, middle class and middle-aged, with a strong Conservative Bias. The selection process has been blamed for the general narrowness of magistrates' backgrounds: Elizabeth Burney's 1979 study into selection methods concluded that the process was almost entirely dominated by existing magistrates who over and over again simple appointed people with similar backgrounds to their own.

However, a narrow social and ethnic background does make the Bench unrepresentative of the general public and may weaken confidence in its decisions, on the part of society in general as well as the defendants before them. Jackson's argument that those 'set in authority over us' always tend to be middle to upper class in not a good reason for not trying to change things. All in all, it would appear on the evaluation that the disadvantages of jury service and magistrates far outweigh the advantages but the main problem must be the danger of their lack of understanding of certain cases.