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Lay Magistrates: Advantages

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Discuss the advantages of using lay Magistrates in the criminal justice process

Trial by peers is an ancient principle as codified in Magna Carta 1215. Lord Bingham described magistrates as .. a democratic jewel beyond price.... This principle applies to Magistrates as well as juries, as they are lay members of the public.

Magistrates' Courts tend to be less intimidating and easier to understand, influenced by the use of lay people, compared to Crown Court trials. Magistrates must give reasons given for decisions since the Human Rights Act 1998.

Magistrates are volunteers so are relatively low cost and the Auld Review (2001) highlighted the low cost of advertising for example, only £35,000 compared to £4.7 million for the Territorial Army. If all Magistrates had to be replaced by judges, approximately 100 judges would be needed and this would require a new system as the current potential pool fall well short of this number.

There is more gender balance than in the judiciary, about forty nine percent of Magistrates are women (Home Office 2003 figures) whereas judges average only about ten percent. Local knowledge can be an useful as Lord Justice Woolf noted in R v Paul, where the defendant was convicted of kerb crawling which was a particular issue in that residential area. Legal knowledge not needed as trials tend to focus on conflicting evidence not points of law and experience can lead to well qualified lay opinions.

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