Lay Magistrates

Lay magistrates are volunteers drawn from all walks of life to represent public as part of the legal process who are not legally qualified but are given appropriate training to undertake their duties. To become a magistrate, an applicant must be aged between 18-65 in a good wealth with satisfactory hearing, he must not be bankrupt, not associated with the administration of justice and not have any court orders against him. He must possess personal integrity and respect and trust of others, be able to understand and communicate effectively, appreciate and accept the rule of law, be mature and of sound temperament, be logical and sound in decision-making, be reliable and committed to his work and must line within the area to which he is allocated.

Candidates usually become magistrates, either in response to advertisements or directly to the secretory of the local advisory committee where at least 2 interviews take place. At first interview, the panel tries to find out more about the candidate’s personal attributes and his attitude on various criminal issues. The 2nd interview is aimed at testing candidate’s potential judicial aptitude. Magistrates are then appointed by lord Chancellor, to sit for 25 to 35 half days a year. They retire at 70 but are removed on the grounds of misbehaviour, persistent failure to meet standards of competence, law justice fails to perform their functions and in case of any criminal charges.

Once appointed they are trained, based on competence as to what he needs to know or be able to do fulfil the role. All law magistrates are trained before sitting and continue to receive training throughout their service. Before sitting in a court, a new magistrate will undergo introductory training by the justice clerk on the basis of the role and sit in the court with two experienced magistrates who guide them through their 1st months. Over this 1st year, further trainings visit to panel institutions and observations take place to equip the magistrate with the key knowledge he needs. At the end of the first year, consolidation training, core training, and first appraisal takes place 12-18 months after the appointment in this, a trained magistrate will observe and give opinion regarding his competencies.

Lay magistrates judge a defendant in either the crown court, high court or the coroners when they plead not guilty. They are sworn into hearing the case and decide if they’re guilty or not. Lay magistrates in the magistrate’s court do the sentencing but its left to the judge in the crown court. This means that magistrates need an element of legal training before undertaking their role. In criminal cases lay magistrates decide if a defendant is guilty or not, they deal with bail applications, issue warrants, remand hearings and committal proceedings, may decide to hear on either way offence, decide whether a case should be adjourned, commit defendant convicted of either way offences, sit on the crown court with the judge to hear appeals from magistrate’s court to hear committals of sentence and enforce financial penalties. Where as in civil cases, lay magistrates are only used in limited circumstances and have a dual role, they deal with licensing, family matters and debit work. Specially qualified lay magistrate’s deal with cases within youth courts including crimes except those exempted of serious dispositions.

The perception of magistrates is often that they are middle-aged and middle class, they’re not a true cross-section of the local community and are represented on the bench, the magistracy has become less diverse in age, because few new magistrates have been recruited and sitting magistrates are getting older, the morale of magistrates has gone down since they interpret their shrinking numbers as a sign of lack of government and judicial commitment to the magistracy. Only 3.2 percent of the panel numbers are 40 in the England. As most magistrates come from the professional and managerial classes, it’s unlikely that they live in or have any real knowledge of the problems in the poorer areas, there are criticisms that the training is variable in quality . They rely too heavily on the clerk and tend to be prosecution bias, believing the police too readily.

If the magistrates were replaced by the professional lawyers, then this would save time as they would know how to challenge and sometimes suppress evidence, it will help avoid potential legal problems and their specialist knowledge can make a substantial outcome of  a case. However, if a lay magistrate is replaced by a professional lawyer, public would lose involvement in the legal process ,it’s cheaper to hire a lay magistrate as they are unpaid, the cost of trial and the cost of replacing them with stipendiary magistrates has been estimated to be 100 million pounds a year, they ‘re not complete amateurs since they’re trained they come from a wider section of society than professional judges as 49 percent of  lay magistrates are females, having a bench of 3 magistrates helps to avoid a bias and gives a balanced view.

Before 2002 the latter in the panel was mainly white with no ethnic diversity. Because of this, measures were taken and lay magistracy is now approaching ethnic representatives, due to this the proportion of magistrates who’re white has reduced to some extent and applicants of mixed race are proportionately increasing.

However, in order to further improve the selection process of magistrates, and balance the ethnic diversity to represent community as a whole, recruitment of district judges need to freeze, the work of magistrates court is shared between magistrates and district judges, freezing will allow the recruitment of lay magistrates instead, delegating more crown court work to magistrates court and ensuring the extra work is done by magistrates, restricting the number of sitting for each existence magistrates, introducing fixed tenure for magistrates for example;10 years to allow and increase in churn and to encourage applicants from and/or positively discriminate in favours of under represented group.