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Legal System | Criminal Courts

Lay Magistrates: Role

Model Answer | A Level

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Explain the work of lay Magistrates

Magistrates are required to sit at least 26 half days a year. They sit as part of a bench consisting of a chairperson and two less experienced wingmen. The Justices' Clerk provide legal advice, case management, admin for legal aid, complete bail forms, read charges, prepare case paperwork and exhibits, advise on the relevant points of law and sentencing options. Magistrates are left to concentrate on evidence and consider appropriate sentence.

Magistrates hear pre-trial committal hearings for either way offences to decide on the court for trial, deal with legal aid and remand (either in custody or bail). Magistrates also hear sending for trial hearings for indictable offences, where cases are simply sent to the Crown Court on first appearance but also deal with legal aid and remand.

Magistrates' Court trial procedure is the same whether it is a summary offence or an either way offence being tried summarily. The role of a Magistrate is to make findings of fact and decisions on guilt or innocence. Magistrates retire to consider their verdict alone. For sentencing they are advised on latest polices and guidelines by the Justices' Clerk. The bench may ask probation prepare a pre sentence report

The chairperson will announce the decision. Magistrates have the power to sentence to a maximum of 6 months imprisonment or impose a fine of up to £5000 in relation to each offence, or the statutory maximum, whichever is less. Magistrates can commit to crown court for sentencing if they have insufficient powers. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 abolished this right in cases where Magistrates had previously accepted jurisdiction.

Magistrates can also sit in Crown Courts alongside judges when considering appeals against conviction or sentence.

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