Author Topic: Are magistrates a positive part of our legal system?  (Read 782 times)

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Offline SaRo|Rapidash

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Are magistrates a positive part of our legal system?
« on: October 21, 2014, 19:16 »
Whilst revising the advantages and disadvantages of Magistrates, I thought this might make an interesting debate as it's not really clear cut either way as to whether it's a good thing. The question this debate poses is basically as it says: Are magistrates really a positive element of the criminal justice system?

In brief terms, Magistrates are uneducated people who are trained to sit in magistrates court in place of judges. 3 magistrates sit in place of 1 district judge. I'll outline the main positives and the counter arguments for them here:

Positive: Benches are roughly gender reflective; in 2010/11 roughly 45% were male and 55% were female. Clearly this shows benches are representative of the people.

Counter-Argument: Ethnic minorities are not fairly represented, with approximately 8.6% of magistrates being from ethnic minorities when the latest census report shows they account for around 14% of the population. The working class are not fairly represented either - the magistracy is disproportionately middle class.

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Positive: They're cheaper than district judges - 3 volunteers are obviously cheaper than a legal professional.

Counter-Argument: They're not much cheaper - £52.10 per case for magistrates compared to £61.78 for judges. Is this minor saving really worth the drop in quality?

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Positive: Local knowledge means they know what problems plague their community & therefore can be tougher on such crimes.

Counter-Argument: By having differing sentences you create somewhat of a "postcode lottery". 20% of burglars receive custodial sentences in Leeds compared to 41% in Birmingham.

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Positive: Implements popular principle of trial by peer - seen to give the defendant a fair trial in accordance with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Counter-Argument: They're case hardened ergo not as representative of societies view as juries. Furthermore, they've taken a judicial oath and have no parallel to Jury Equity (reaching a decision based on conscience even if it conflicts with the law: see R .v. Wang where a jury found D not guilty of committing an offence when he clearly had offensive weapons because he claimed he practised the Buddhist art of Shaolin) which is what makes juror's be considered fairer to some.

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Positive: They're trained to be able to deal with cases effectively and efficiently - almost as well as judges.

Counter-Argument: The whole point of using magistrates is that they are lay people - surely training defeats the object of this? Why not just use judges who are trained better?

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Positive: Strength in numbers - 3 magistrates are surely better than 1 judge?

Counter-Argument: A judge knows the law - he can follow it to the letter and presumably reach just as effective of a verdict as magistrates can.

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Positive: Few appeals suggest they're doing a good job - people are happy to accept they're sentences.

Counter-Argument: The cost of appeal is quite high and when the maximum sentence they can impose is 6 months is it even worth D appealing?

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Okay, so that's basically a summary of the main points surrounding the debate, but what do you people think? Should lay people be expected to deal with such a massive workload for free? Can they really be considered lay with the excessive training they are out through? Does losing jury equity mean they're no longer peers?
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Offline Spriter

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Re: Are magistrates a positive part of our legal system?
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2014, 19:47 »
Wouldn't you also take into account a judges salary too? They get a lot of money wage-wise.

That's all I'm pointing out, sorry xD

Offline SaRo|Rapidash

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Re: Are magistrates a positive part of our legal system?
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2014, 19:50 »
Wouldn't you also take into account a judges salary too? They get a lot of money wage-wise.

That's all I'm pointing out, sorry xD

Yeah, that figure uses judges wages and the average expenses claimed by a magistrate. I believe the reason the judges is so close to the magistrates is because the speed at which they manage cases is so much greater they end up saving money in other ways?
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Offline Milsap

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Re: Are magistrates a positive part of our legal system?
« Reply #3 on: October 23, 2014, 16:24 »
Magistrates should handle 'petty crime' like shoplifting and civil disputes (eg- Neighbour cutting hedges that don't belong to them) and other things that can be settled quickly, while anything higher should go to legally trained professionals.
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