Explain the work of lay magistrates (10 marks) The work of lay magistrates includes hearing applications for bail (bail act 1976) and for legal aid. Magistrates also sit in benches of three and hear all summary offences and the majority of either-way offences as a court of first instance, that’s over 96% of all criminal cases. The majority of either-way offenders opt for a magistrates hearing as they hope for a shorter sentence because the magistrates sentencing powers are limited to 6 months imprisonment or 12months for 2 offences, and a maximum fine of ? 5000.
They hear preliminary hearings for all criminal cases, but they then transfer indictable offences, some either way offences that are outside their sentencing powers, or are particularly complex, and applications for bail to the crown court. Magistrates also accompany circuit judges in hearing appeals against conviction/sentencing from the magistrates in the crown court. having the magistrates in the appeals helps them to gain further knowledge on how laws should be interpreted and which sentences are appropriate for which crimes so the same mistakes are not repeated.
When hearing cases magistrates are advised on points of law by legally qualified clerks, but they must decide on the facts by themselves. They alone must interpret the law and agree on conviction and sentencing, and any suitable costs or compensation. legal advisors must not influence the decision making of the magistrates as the whole idea of magistrates is trial by your peers, as you do not need any qualifications to become a magistrate so they are more representative of society than judges are. A mixed gender bench of 3 specially qualified magistrates and the justice’s clerk sit in the youth court.
Proceedings in the youth court are very similar to the adult courts but more relaxed, and less formal. In the youth courts a parent or guardian must be present and the youth may have a social worker or legal representative. If the magistrates find the youth defendant guilty they usually either issue them with a deferred sentence, a community sentence, or a sentence of detention in a youth offenders institute. Magistrates also have the jurisdiction to deal with applications for licences for the sale of alcohol, and licensing gaming establishments (licensing act 2003). An advantage of this would be that there are 30,000 magistrates and ar fewer judges, so for something like applications for licences where there are tens of thousands a year, it is much quicker having magistrates deal with them. Payment of debts such as utility bills is enforced by magistrates for the same reason of time saving. The magistrates family proceedings courts deal with care orders, supervision orders, and emergency protection orders. They also deal with parental responsibility and contact orders. Since the children act 1989 the magistrates family proceedings courts have worked alongside the county courts, and some cases are deferred there on grounds of legal complexity.