Discuss the disadvantages of using lay Magistrates in the criminal justice process
A criticism of Magistrates is that over time circumstances are not shocking, passing sentences is less of a big issue and cynicism develops this known as
case hardening. The Prison Reform Trust Report on Sentencing (2010) highlighted the
postcode lottery in terms of sentencing. For example Youth courts in Merthyr Tydfil issued custodial terms for just over twenty percent of convictions which is tens times the equivalent rate in Newcastle.
Bias towards the police or prosecution can be an issue 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
..my principle such cases has always been to believe the police officer..., the conviction was quashed on appeal.
The bench is often not socially representative. The Auld Report said there was no realistic expectation that the social composition is close to population. For example, about five percent of Magistrates are under forty years old but majority of defendants are under twenty five. Approximately, two thirds of Magistrates have professional or managerial background compared to one third of population. Local knowledge is an incorrect assumption as in reality many do not have knowledge and understanding of the region especially the poorer areas.
There is a lack of public understanding about Magistrates a survey in 2000 found thrity three of public think lay justices are legally qualified. It can be argued that lay Magistrates may be influenced, more than professionally independent judges, both by the chairperson and also the media.