Personnel in Criminal and Civil Court

What are the main roles and responsibilities of a solicitor in a criminal case?

A solicitor will represent clients in a magistrate’s court. They will also do all paperwork needed and the behind the scenes work.

What are the main roles and responsibilities of a barrister in a criminal case?

A barrister will represent clients in a crown court. They have a right to make sure that every client is represented to the highest standard.

What are the main roles and responsibilities of a lay magistrate in a criminal case?

A magistrate will hear 100% of preliminary cases; 97% of them cases to completion. A magistrate work within the magistrate’s court and have the power to sentence someone up to 6 months in prison or an unlimited fine.

What are the main roles and responsibilities of a jury in a criminal case?

A jury is used in the crown court if a defendant pleads not guilty. All evidence in the court will be presented to a jury by both the prosecution and the defense. They will then come to a verdict whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

What are the main roles and responsibilities of a judge in a civil case?

A judge is used in all levels of the civil court system. They decide liability based on the evidence presented to them. The judge has the ability to set precedents , however must follow any set by higher civil courts.

What are the main roles and responsibilities of solicitors and barristers in a civil case?

When used in a civil case, solicitors and barristers may also be referred to as lawyers. A solicitor will have face to face meetings with clients and will also write up all paperwork needed. A barrister will represent clients in the high court, county courts and on rare occasions in tribunals. Like a solicitor, a barrister will also do most paperwork needed. This will include documents needed for courts and any agreements.

What are the different roles and responsibilities of judges, and lay personnel in the English courts?

In a criminal court a judge will decide the sentence. In a civil court a judge will decide both the verdict and the liability. In both instances they control how the court hearing pans out.

Lay personnel are used in just criminal court acting as both the magistrates and the jury. They are typically unpaid and untrained. The magistrates work within the magistrates court and decide the verdict and sentencing (unless it progresses onto crown court). The jury work within the crown court in criminal cases and in rare examples in the high court in civil cases. In summary lay personnel decide whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty.

How are they similar?

They are similar as they both work within the court system and have the ability to make decisions on the point of law.

How are they different?

Lay personnel are unpaid and untrained whereas judges are educated in the legal system and receive a salary. Lay personnel can be any British citizen on the electoral register as long as they don’t have a criminal record. Judges have the ability to set precedents where as lay personnel do not.

How effective are lay personnel in providing a positive contribution to the English court system?

InBrief stated that “The integration of lay people into the English legal system has been very successful”. This is due many contributing factors such as the fact that magistrates are unpaid making them a cheaper alternative to a judge. On the other hand the reason the judges receives payment is due to his education and training in the judicial practise. After expenses are factored in, the difference in cost is only marginal. (Bristow, 2011).

Although there have been many attempts to make lay personal more diverse, this has not stopped magistrates facing a diversity crisis. Statistics show that in 2014, 55.5% of all magistrates were 60 years old or over and only 15.9% of all magistrates were under the age of 50. (Transform Justice, 2014). This shows that although a diverse approach is taken when employing magistrates, there is still some bias. This has an overall negative effect to the English court system as less perspectives are viewed in court.

A magistrate is required to live or work near to the court where they will hear cases. This means they will have knowledge of local crime patterns and the social norms in that area. This is a positive contribution as it means there opinion on a case will vary depending on an area.

A bias opinion is very unlikely when a defendant has presented their case to a jury, due to it being the opinion of 12 people (astrocourt, 2015). People who sit on a jury are randomly selected from the electoral register, meaning they can be from any social and financial background, making the jury highly diverse. A decision is made in private so no member of the court can influence the jury’s decision however this does not always prevent outside influences. In some high profile cases the media can have a large influence on a jury’s decision. In the Regina v West (1996) case, witnesses had sold their stories to the media, meaning that when it came to trial the jury had already made an opinion on the case, before having evidence presented to them. (dls, 2016)

Like magistrates, the jury typically do not have any previous legal experience and also come at a very low cost. Whilst a jury can be cost efficient as only expenses are paid, the cost will rise as the duration of the case increases. The case needs to be explained fully and carefully so every member of the jury understands in order for them to come to an accurate verdict. This can make cases go on for longer meaning the court costs are higher.

Overall I believe that lay personnel have a positive contribution to the English court system as they are low cost and have a varied opinion.


Reference’s

InBrief (2016) Lay People and their Role in the English Legal System [Online] Available at http://www.inbrief.co.uk/legal-system/lay-magistrates-juries/ (Accessed: 31/10/2016).

Richard Bristow (2011) Are professional judges better than lay magistrates? [Online] Available at https://www.theguardian.com/law/2011/nov/17/are-paid-judges-better-than-lay-magistrates (Accessed: 31/10/2016).

Transform Justice (2014) Are magistrates facing a diversity crisis? [Online] Available at http://www.transformjustice.org.uk/are-magistrates-facing-a-diversity-crisis/ (Accessed: 31/10/2016).

astrocourt (2015) What are the pros and cons of juries in the English legal system? [Online] Available at http://www.enotes.com/homework-help/what-pros-cons-juries-english-legal-system-532815 (Accessed: 31/10/2016).

ELISSA HUNT (2012) Jurors used Ouija board in UK double murder trial [Online] Available at http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/jurors-used-ouija-board-in-uk-double-murder-trial/story-fnat79vb-1226299734357 (Accessed: 31/10/2016).

dls (2016) REGINA V WEST (ROSEMARY); CACD 3 APR 1996 [Online] Available at http://swarb.co.uk/regina-v-west-rosemary-cacd-3-apr-1996/ (Accessed: 31/10/2016).

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