Monday, July 19, 2010


I'm reading once again about the various courts, their structure and jurisdiction and who presides over each. I continue to be amazed by the Magistrates Courts and the magistrates. These courts are the backbone of the court system and handle most of the legal cases (supposedly 95% of the criminal cases in England and Wales). While many come unrepresented to these courts or benefit from a McKenzie friend, in order to stand before the court and represent a client one needs years of legal training and then acceptance into the legal profession. Yet what are the qualifications to sit in judgement? The following is an extract from

You don't need formal qualifications or legal training to become a magistrate.

However, you will need to be able to demonstrate six key personal qualities:
good character
understanding and communication
social awareness
maturity and sound temperament
sound judgement
commitment and reliability

Huh? Well let's read further...maybe there is some rigorous training program in place...

You will undertake a training programme to help you develop all the knowledge and skills you will need to serve as a magistrate. This is given locally by your Justices' Clerk (legal advisor) or a member of his or her team. You will be in a group with other new magistrates recruited at the same time as you. Training will be given using a variety of methods, which may include pre-course reading, small-group work, use of case studies, computer-based training and CCTV.

Excellent that is defiantly good to know. Sounds like it will be pretty intense...let's see if there is any information about how long a magistrate will need to undergo this course work....

The initial induction and core training will normally be for the equivalent of three days (18 hours) and may be delivered over a long weekend, in a series of short evening sessions over several weeks, over three separate week days, or as a residential course. It is recognised that magistrates are volunteers and that their time is valuable, so every effort is made to provide all training at times and places convenient to trainees.

Three days? Am I missing something here? Is that all that is required to sit in judgement?

I recognize that these are unpaid part-time positions but I would be really interested in reading about whether or not we would be better served by paid full time justices of the peace rather than part-timers with limited legal training. I am not trying to be smug and suggest a better way (I know for example that most who come before a magistrate are pleased with the justice which they receive) but still it does strike me as unbalanced that so much effort and training is required from a legal profession yet a judge may be layman. Feedback welcome...

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