Legal system is a set of procedures and processes used to interpret and enforce law. The legal system in the UK is administered by the courts. The report gives a brief understanding of the legal systems and its functions prevalent in the UK. There is also a brief of the information gathered while attending the court along with the functioning of the court (Abel, 2014).
PART – A
The criminal matters are heard in the Magistrate's courts at first instance. While the serious criminal matters are sent to the Crown court after preliminary hearing, the less serious matters or matters of juveniles are tried in the Magistrate's courts. The proceedings in these courts are presided by the Magistrates, who deal in 3 types of offences – Summary, either-way (matters which are heard before a magistrate or judge in crown court), and indictable-only (matters which goes to Crown court).
The members involved in the organisation and operational administration of a Magistrate's court are explained below:
The cases in the Magistrate's courts are heard by:
- The District Judges are legally qualified judges to whom fees is paid, they hear the complex and long matters (Greene and Heilbrun, 2013).
- The Deputy District Judges are part time judges, paid, sitting at least for 15 days in a year.
- The Justices of peace are people living in the locality not having legal background, dealing with less serious matters of theft, public damages etc. They sit along with a legal adviser who has knowledge of law. They sit in benches comprising of three magistrates and are not paid (Judicial System, 2016).
The Justices' Clerks are the legally trained persons in the Magistrate's court who provide legal advice to the justices on the matters.
The Ushers are court officials responsible for deciding order of cases, secured transaction of legal documents and inform participants about their turn in the courtroom. Usually only the ushers wear black robes in the Magistrate's courts.
The Prosecuting Solicitor is the lawyer who represents the case on behalf of the state or the police department, stating what offence has been committed by the accused.
The Defence Solicitor is representation on behalf of the defendants. He represents his client's interests in the court while defending him from the charged offences.
During the court visit it was observed that the trial was for sentencing in a matter pertaining to rash and dangerous driving. The defendant Mr. Alan Cooper was heard by the court and he was charged for three different issues. Firstly, for rashly and recklessly driving, second was driving while talking on his cell phone and thirdly for driving without a driving license as the license was disqualified in the previous matter till the final hearing. The defendant was found to be in breach of the court's order given previously while infringing the provisions of the Road Safety Act, 2006.
The defendant admitted the charges put on him except for the one driving while talking on the cellphone. The bench keenly heard the matter and after long discussions with the judicial adviser decided the matter. The defendant' was found guilty of rash and dangerous driving and he was disqualified from his driving license for a period of eleven months under the Act, 2006, and his driving license will remain disqualified until he passes a driving test after serving the disqualification period. He was also imposed a fine of 1000 pounds which included the court fees and damages.
PART – B
Magistrates – Judicial beasts of burden: The Selection process and their Roles
The expression 'lay people' in law means the involvement of ordinary, legally non-qualified people in the legal system which ensures that the system becomes fairer. The UK has a history of involving local people in the legal system. Lay people are mainly part of the Magistrate's court and the Crown courts as magistrate and jury. In the magistrate's court over 95% of the criminal cases are heard by the magistrates (Goodmark, 2013).
The Lay magistrates play a crucial role in decision making as they have invaluable local knowledge, they bring in a variety of life experience and they make the process cost effective. The magistrates are unqualified and are not paid since they volunteer for the work. Generally, they sit in the benches of three but often the matters could be dealt by a single magistrate.
Qualifications for appointment of magistrate
For becoming a magistrate a person should fulfil certain requirements such as maturity, sound judgement, social awareness, good character, understanding and communication. There are other qualifications for becoming a magistrate which are – a person should be aged between 18-65. There are certain restrictions as well for the appointment of a magistrate which are:
- An individual should not be declared bankrupt or insolvent.
- An should not be convicted for a criminal offence (Wigmore, 2015).
The Recruitment and Selection process
The recruitment and selection process of the magistrates is primary responsibility of the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor which is further delegated to the local advisory committees. The local advisory committees conduct the appointment procedure accordingly in their areas through interview and the selected candidature is recommended to the Senior Presiding Judge. The Senior Presiding judge then appoint the magistrate on the Lord Chief Justice's stead. The duration of the appointment process varies depending on the factor such as number of applications received, lasting from a few months to a year (Wang, 2014).
The person who applies for becoming a magistrate has to go through interviews which are held in two stages. The interview is conducted through a three membered panel by the local advisory committee. The first stage of interview focuses on the contents of the application. The social awareness and knowledge is judged in this interview along with good character and background of the applicant. The second stage of interview tests whether an applicant has judicial aptitude or not.
The applicant is required to give at least three references for character. The references or the referees should know the applicant to form an opinion whether the applicant fulfils the key qualities for appointment (Eades, 2014).
Post interview assessment
The interviews does not ensure that the person will be appointed as the magistrates are solely appointed on merits. The panel score the applicant after the interviews and take a decision on the recommendations to be made.
Disclosure and Barring Service clearance
The recommended applicants have to undergo a DBS check arranged by the local advisory committee to ensure there are no criminal charges or records of the applicants.
The individuals qualifying are appointed by the Lord Chancellor on behalf of the Queen on the basis of the recommendations of the local committee. The magistrates are to be present in the court for a minimum of 13 days or 26 half days in a year. The magistrates are entitled to allowances such as travel etc.
The magistrates are recruited in areas depending on the amount of work of a court in that area. Once appointed as a the magistrate, the individuals are subject to training which is a continuous process. The new magistrates are assigned to mentor who looks into their personal development and records their progress. They go through various sessions before they hear their first case as a bench.
Role of magistrates
Now the magistrate's are called the 'justices of peace', a concept which is prevalent in the judicial system of England and Wales from past 650 years. The role of magistrates have changed over the years with the changing community and society but the quality of the fairness in delivering justice has remained same ever since. The justices of peace form an integral part of the modern summary judicial system as they deal with around 95% of the criminal matters. The magistrates are also integral to the system as the cases resolved by them are often not appealed. In the year 2017, the magistrate resolved and heard 19 out of 20 defendants and only 6% cases were gone and heard by the Crown court (Chung and et. al., 2012).
The justices also deal with the civil matters as they also sit as the judges in the family courts looking into the matters of welfare of children and their upbringing. And, from September 2017 the individuals can directly apply to the family courts to become magistrates in three areas of England and Wales.
In the changing society the role of magistrates is becoming more integral as their involvement have always remained the centre of criminal justice system. The magistrates deal with around 90% of the criminal cases and cost only 1% of Her Majesty's courts and tribunals budget. The magistracy has always remained the heart of the UK's legal system and there are many reformative steps taken by the authorities to ensure more recruitment of the magistrates from every walks of the society especially the under-represented communities. This clearly suggests that the magistrates are not the judicial beasts of burden but actually the heart and soul of the criminal justice system and a reflection of society.
PART – C
The court visits are pivotal for any law student as they are informational and educational. While reading law through the texts as a part of curriculum the students might not be able to retain the provisions but once the same in experienced in person while visiting courts makes a lasting impression. A student can see law in action and learn which could be lost while just reading texts.
The court visits also provides an understanding of the legal system and its functions which are in practice. As mentioned earlier the legal system in the UK is administered by the courts, and the court visits helps in developing a understanding of all the levels of the court and forums from the supreme court to the county courts, tribunals, magistrates' courts etc.
I visited a magistrates court in London and it helped me in understanding the persons involved in the organisation, which are the Justices, judicial advisors or clerks, usher, prosecuting and defence solicitors, their duties and responsibilities. I also got to understand the working of the court, for instance, when the bench sits and defendant comes forward and introduce himself etc. Going to a court and observing not only gave an insight of the practical side of law but also helped me in learning the legal etiquettes and ethics followed by the barristers and solicitors. As I went in the starting of the court, I got to observe how a case was opened by the solicitors and how charges were read out and even though the public gallery was full of people still how keenly the justices were managing the work.
Also, if one could not decide as to which path should be taken while making a career in law then the court visits are helpful in narrowing down the options, for instance, whether to practice in criminal law or civil law. The court visits are not only helpful in narrowing down career option they are exceptionally educative and makes the students understand how law of the land has evolved with the changing times. All the learning could be applied to the academics as well as going to courts helped me in working upon improving the quality of my legal arguments, both oral and written. I've also observed that the magistracy is an integral part of our criminal justice system, as the justices reflect the society and depicts how well an individual can be play a role in our legal system.
In conclusion it can be stated that legal system in the UK is administered by the court and there is a hierarchy followed in the courts. The Magistracy is integral in the justice system of the UK as they are reflective of the country's summary justice system. The court visits help in understanding the legal system as it makes one familiar with the practical aspects of law.
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