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Legal System | Criminal Courts

Lay People: Disadvantages

Model Answer | A Level

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Discuss the disadvantages of using lay people in the criminal justice process


Bias can be an issue with using lay people. Magistrates can be criticised for bias towards police/prosecution, as shown by the Bingham Justices case. The defendant was accused of speeding the evidence was contradictory from the only witnesses. He was convicted and the chairperson noted that principle such cases has always been to believe the police officer..., the conviction was quashed on appeal. Juries have a low conviction rate, in rape cases it is claimed that jurors' prejudicial attitudes to female complainants account for low conviction rates (Temkin 2008). Juries can be criticised for bias and prejudices go unchallenged and even unnoticed as no reason for decision is required. In Randle & Pottle, the defendants assisted a famous spy to escape from prison and wrote a book about the escape, they argued their actions were justified because of the severity of sentence and were acquitted by a jury.

Selection processes

Selection plays a key role and therefore the perception of trial by peers may not be, in reality, accurate. The bench is often not socially representative, for example, about five percent of Magistrates are under 40 years old but majority of defendants are under 25, Two thirds of Magistrates have professional or managerial background compared to one third of population. As jurors selection is based on voter registration, which is imperfect it means often poorer and ethnic minorities are not in the potential juror pool.

Suseptible to influence

Lay magistrates can be influenced more than professional judges by the chairperson. Similarly a few members of a jury can be influential even intimidating which would not happen in a professional setting Juries can be more susceptible to intimidation or bribery so the Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows for trials to be conducted without a jury where there is a danger of jury tampering. Media pressure can also affect lay people more easily.

Postcode Lottery

The postcode lottery seems particularly relevant to decisions made by lay people. The Prison Reform Trust Report on Sentencing (2010) highlighted the issue in terms of Magistrates' sentencing. For example Youth courts in Merthyr Tydfil issued custodial terms for just over twenty percent of convictions which is ten times the equivalent rate in Newcastle. A postcode lottery can apply to juries too, for example Snaresbrook Crown Court has a reputation for juries that do not convict (Hansard 1982).

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