OverviewIn the past, our ancestors lived with the primal admonition “a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye” to exercise their judicial prerogative. In a society where brute force is the only means to protect his family, land and property, naturally the strongest and meanest will survive.But as civilization evolved through the centuries, man realized the importance of the support system that communities can provide.
And as man detached from his nomadic way of life to thus become domesticated and abide by the tenets of the community’s justice system. Although primal in nature, this paradigm served as the foundation for the development of the judicial system that has been practiced by succeeding generations.In our modern society, justice becomes a guarantee as practically all constitutions around the world declare this right. In fact, it is explicit in its provision that regardless of color, creed and beliefs, everybody else deserves equality in the eyes of the law.
Justice does not serve only the privileged few. If you commit a crime, the judicial system will see to it that you are penalized commensurate to the crime committed.Our modern judiciary has become sophisticated because it has been subdivided into different levels that try specific offenders – due probably to the rapid growth of population. These are all part of the Supreme Court of Judicature, composed of the Magistrate’s Court, the Crown Court, the Court of Appeals, the Family and the Youth Court.
From what category an offense is categorized, there is always a court that will hear and prosecute the offender (The Crown Court, 2007).While the magistrate court is found in most towns and cities, it is the most junior of all criminal courts, but hears 96% of all cases submitted for sentencing. The Crown Court on the other hand tries only criminal cases that are not prosecuted by the magistrate’s court. The point of comparison lies in the fact that both courts form part of the Supreme Court of Judicature, though endowed with different areas of jurisdiction, particularly in the context of committed criminal offenses (The Courts, 2005).
In the course of development, the English judiciary enforced a strict adherence to dress codes during hearings. The purpose of the dress code is to sustain the high degree of independence and ethical conduct of the judicial bar. Up to the present time, judges are required to don the prescribed attires during hearings, although these are not enforced during hearings at Family Courts, because such donning tends to intimidate children.We shall assess separately and in detail how the Magistrate and Crown Court deal with law violators in their respective courtrooms. This essay will try to deal with the physical aspects of both Judicial Courts to study more deeply its point of comparison in the handling of criminal offenses.
All criminal cases are first tried in the Magistrate’s Court, but they can only try less serious offenses because the Magistrate is mandated by law only to pursue less severe sentencing and the minor imposition of fines. In most cases the Magistrate Court can only order custodial penalty of up to six months and up to 5 thousand pounds in fine. They are the front liners of the judicial system, and as such they shoulder most of the brunt in majority of criminal cases.
The Magistrates in a Magistrate’s Court are not legally qualified and are therefore subject to the advice of the Court Clerk. No jury trial will be allowed in a Magistrate’s Court, if a defendant requests for one, then his case will be withdrawn and tried in a superior court, usually the Crown Court for criminal offenses.The Magistrate’s Court is a major component of the criminal justice system and usually cases are tried under the panel of three magistrates or Justices of the Peace, supported by a legally qualified Court Clerk. For 6 centuries the Magistrate’s Court has been in the legal battle against lawbreakers.
It arbitrates local disputes, and has been responsible for the upkeep of order with the community (Magistrates, 2006).There is also a Magistrate’s Court that tries offenses under a District Judge. He/she sits alone, being legally qualified – seven years as barrister or solicitor and two years as deputy district judge. This special Court handles more complex or sensitive cases involving the Extradition Act, Fugitive Offenders Act and serious fraud (Magistrates, 2006).
The Court handles only minor criminal offenses such as minor thefts, assaults and traffic violations. Those found guilty by the Magistrate’s Court are sure to get a maximum sentence of not more than six months imprisonment or a fine of 5,000 pounds. Aside from the monetary fine, the Court can also order community sentences such as probation, community service, curfews, etc (The Courts, 2005).Although classified mainly as a criminal court, the Magistrate’s Court does not have encompassing civil power though part of its jurisdiction includes questions involving divorce, child custody and property matters – but not the divorce proceedings itself.
It is however the government agency entrusted when one requires renewal of alcohol and gaming licenses for pubs/clubs and also betting shops respectively (The Courts, 2005).Normally, the Magistrate’s Court can only order limited sentences and fines, but in cases where it can be tried by both Magistrate Court and Crown Court, the offender may be elevated to the Crown Court for sentencing in case a more severe penalty is found appropriate.
The Crown Court is a degree higher and deals with indictable criminal offenses that have undergone review and have likewise been transferred from the jurisdiction of the Magistrate’s Court. These criminal cases include murder, rape and robbery – cases due for sentencing and appeals.
The court proceedings involve a judge that will hear the arguments of the case and the selected jury.The Crown Court administers to cases that are too complicated for the Magistrate’s Court. High Court Judges, Circuit Judges and Recorders attend to cases in the courtroom of Crown Courts. Their presence is specifically needed to hear serious cases involving criminal law such as murder.
Cases that fall under serious physical injuries or bodily harm are normally tried under a Circuit Judge or Recorder. Sentences promulgated by the Crown Court can be submitted for review and appeal to the Court of Appeals.As mentioned earlier, cases that are forwarded to the Crown Court from the Magistrate’s Court are to be tried by a judge and a jury. This is in case where the charges are found indictable such as manslaughter, murder, kidnapping, armed robbery and rape.
A jury must sit on the trial and award a verdict. Moreover, the case may have been previously tried by the Magistrate’s Court and a guilty verdict has been imposed though sentencing is referred to the Crown Court for a much tougher punishment. And lastly, a case may be referred by the Magistrate’s Court to the Crown Court for appeal.Owing to the danger in the transport of felony defendants from prison cells to Crown Courts for a routine trial, authorities are doubling security precautions to handle such a situation.
But the risk is still there particularly for high profile inmates or those involved in terrorists activities, because they operate like a clandestine group and they could simply snatch their comrades while in transit.The judiciary has finally approved the use of video links, so defendants can attend hearings without physically leaving custody. This will save the government in terms of security preparations in the transport of these defendants.One added benefit to the video link is that this can now entice witnesses to present their side orally without having to report to the court, which could really be a frightening experience. Nobody could therefore intimidate witnesses and court proceedings could proceed without delays, particularly on the availability of witnesses (Crown Courts, 2003).
The Magistrate’s Court is the lowest in the hierarchy of courts in the United Kingdom, while the Crown Court is more elevated in stature.Offenses tried; Though, both the Magistrate and Crown Court are criminal courts, minor offenses like theft, traffic violations and assault are first tried under the Magistrate’s Court, but when found to exceed the jurisdiction of the lower court, the case is elevated to the Crown Court.The lower court serves as the frontline judiciary court that will be responsible for all criminal offenses to try and dispense punishment on small offenses.
Limited civil power is given to the Magistrate’s Court since their mandate deals only with matters involving divorce settlement, custody of children and questions regarding the appropriation of conjugal properties. They are however barred from trying divorce cases, because this becomes the jurisdiction of the Crown Court. The Magistrate’s Court is tasked with the renewal of gaming licenses for pubs or clubs and has jurisdiction over betting shops while Crown Courts concerns are limited on matters that pertain to the judicial process (Courts in the United Kingdom, 2007).
Imposition of penalties; Although 96% of all criminal cases undergo torrid screening at the Magistrate’s Court, only minor offenses pass through since the more sensational cases are tried in the courtroom of Crown Courts (Civil Courts, 2007).Since only minor offenses are dealt with in the Magistrate’s Court, sentencing is likewise limited to a maximum of six months imprisonment and a high of 5 thousand pounds as fine.
Meanwhile the Crown Court, due to its stature, can dispense the highest possible punishment on a convicted criminal – life imprisonment as demanded by the UK laws or maximum fines depending on the degree of damages accrued.Who presides in court hearings? In the Magistrate’s Court, a set of three magistrates sits on the bench to hear the case and promulgate a verdict, while the Crown Court is heard in the presence of a judge and a twelve-man jury (no jury hearing is allowed in a Magistrate’s Court).
When the jury decides on a guilty verdict, it is only then that the judge can impose punishment depending on the degree of the offense and based on the guidelines of the judiciary. Likewise, the Magistrates can elevate a felony case to the Crown Court for sentencing for a much stiffer penalty if the findings so warrant (Magistrates’ Court, 2007).
The magistrates in a Magistrate’s Court are lay people who have been trained by the judiciary but are not legally qualified (depends for guidance on the court clerk). Meanwhile, the presiding judge in a Crown Court is legally qualified having completed a degree in law apart from an experience that covers seven years as a barrister or solicitor and two years as a deputy district judge. The magistrates are not paid a monthly salary for their position, but can likewise claim and reimburse expenses. The judges on the other hand are provided a monthly stipend for their tenure, as guaranteed by the judiciary.
All criminal cases that have been tried and sentenced in the Magistrate’s Court, the concerned defendant’s can directly make an appeal for the review of the case to the Crown Court. Similarly, cases that got promulgated in the Crown Courts can likewise submit their appeal for review and reduction of penalty with the Court of Appeals, particularly the Criminal Division.
There are distinct advantages both courts have on a defendant, but several factors have to be considered first before a decision can be made as to what court will try the criminal case. If the Magistrate’s Court handles the case, then a residual penalty is expected, but there is no guarantee since it could be elevated to the Crown Court depending on the merits of the case. Either way a reduced sentence could not be guaranteed.Defendants have to be at least 18 years old before they can be tried in either the Magistrate’s or Crown Court.
A defendant may plead guilty and the court will then issue a sentence. On the other hand, if a defendant decides on a “not guilty” plea, the case will be heard. A defendant will then have the opportunity to prove his innocence with the help of a defense attorney. The state however will prosecute through a prosecution lawyer arguing otherwise and to establish the defendant’s guilt.
Witnesses will be called to testify that will collaborate statements and defendants will be subjected to a thorough cross-examination, particularly from the prosecution lawyers.If after the hearing the Magistrates find a defendant not guilty, the defendant is free to leave the court with his name and reputation intact, but should the judges find the defendant guilty and have pleaded otherwise, he face a custodial term, community service or fine.Court hearing at a Crown Court is practically similar in substance to the Magistrate’s Court. The guilty and not guilty plea procedure is likewise followed except that defendants can expect stiffer penalties.
Aside from the judge, a jury will also be around to hear the defendant’s case and render a verdict at the end of the trial. After the arguments of both sides have been duly heard, the jury will then retire to a secret chamber to discuss and decide the verdict of the case.Once a verdict has been reached, it is then submitted to the presiding judge, so that he can pass sentence. If the jury finds the defendant to be not guilty, then by all means the defendant can leave the court a free man but if found guilty and depending on the severity of the crime, the sentence could be as harsh as maximum reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment.
The courtroom appearance; The defendant’s first day in court is typically an intimidating experience. Thus, in some cases a defendant might want to be acquainted with the surroundings before the actual trial can commence. A customer services officer can be on hand to tour the defendant in advance, but contact with the other party in the trial is not allowed, since this could be an issue, particularly in cases involving assault (Court Procedure, 2007).A similar scenario is expected when a defendant is tried at the Crown Court.
The only difference is that the venue could be larger since a gallery for the jury is added and perhaps more intimidating than when tried at a lower court.The courtroom. On the appointed day, the defendant’s solicitor or defense attorney will naturally be around to meet with his client outside the courtroom. Naturally the defendant will feel jittery or maybe tense, but people in the court will understand and be supportive all the way.
The Magistrate’s hearing can be conducted in a courtroom, usually with a gallery for the general public or probably in a private room. People connected to the case, such as witnesses and prosecution lawyers, will obviously be invited to attend. What will add to a defendant’s inconvenience are faces that sport undue seriousness and particularly the Magistrates with their menacing looks.What a defendant feels inside a Magistrate’s Court is doubly manifested in a Crown Court, particularly if a defendant is tried at The Old Bailey in London, the trial court of the most serious or high profile cases.
The place is huge because a judge and a 12 man-jury will hear the case, along with a battery of prosecution and defense lawyers. Aside from the public gallery, a special gallery is added for the press that intends to cover the proceedings (Court Procedure, 2007).The courtroom is delicately organized. There is also a dock (a raised platform) where the defendant is expected to be seated and stand when requested by the court.
The mere mention of the dock and the witness stand could indeed be a frightening experience, but as the case progresses, things will become more familiar and everybody can be at ease for the entire duration of the trial.The average trial in a Crown Court would only last for a day or two, but if the evidence is complicated as in fraud trials, then court proceedings could extend to two weeks or even a month.
The court’s dress code; What is so unique about the British Judiciary is their strict requirement that judges, barristers, solicitors in all court levels must wear the prescribed attires when conducting court hearings. This show of finesse has been followed by almost all judicial bar councils around the world.
In the case of Magistrates in Magistrate’s Courts, they are however exempted from the use of these prescribed attires. Maybe because, courts of this kind administer to petty crimes and justice are usually meted out in the rural areas. But in most courts, the dress code is faithfully encouraged.The Crown Court judges follow the dress code properly.
The code is specific that judges must wear wigs in the crown courts with the standard wing collar and bands as accessory to the prescribed robes. English advocates – barristers or solicitors, must follow the judges robed attire together with a stiff wing collar with bands (Wikipedia Contributors, 2007).
Underneath their robes is a formal attire of either a dark suit or a black coat and waistcoat or maybe substitute such with a bar jacket and matched with a gray pinstriped trousers.
The Judiciary is a branch of Government that serves as the guardian of people’s rights, and as such, said courts must at all times show its total independence from the powers that be. This bastion of hope must trickle down to the lower courts, so justice can be dispensed swiftly and freely without intimidation.The courts must reverse the notion “that justice is only for the rich” and “that justice delayed is justice denied” which is a popular line among critics of the judiciary. Prone to schemes by powerful people are the end line Magistrate’s Court, that could be subjected to intimidation. Therefore their services to the populace would be hampered.
This assumption is relevant because the majority of the less serious criminal cases are nominally handled by the magistrates. They must be provided with ample protection from the judiciary, so they can dispense with their duties without the fear of repercussion.This is not so much for the Crown Courts, because they handle the more sensational cases where the media is always vigilant so that people will always be apprised of whatever shenanigans or hocus- pocus that may transpire in the duration of the trial that will always be broadcasted out in the open.It is always a must for the government to really hold the reins in the fight to dispense justice equally, so everybody else can benefit from it.
We find that more advanced societies have already fine-tuned their judiciary plus the fact that people are already aware of their rights, then justice is indeed for everybody regardless of whatever stature in life they may have.Let’s just hope that the speedy delivery of justice in more affluent societies could really serve as models for struggling democracies, so all will have his share in the inheritance that the Lord God bestows upon his people.
- Civil Courts in UK: Does It Need a Reform?. (2007). Retrieved December 2, 2007, from Mind Relief, http://www.mindrelief.net/civil_courts_in_uk.html.
- Court Procedure. (2007). Retrieved December 4, 2007, from The site org, http://www.thesite. org/homelawandmoney/law/introuble/courtprocedure
- Courts in the United Kingdom. (2007). Retrieved December 1, 2007, from Just Cite, http://www. justcite.com/support/faqs-courts.html. Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_dress.