12. The Magistracy today

A mock trial introduces young people to the  workings of the legal system.  Courtesy of Surrey Magistrates Association

A mock trial introduces young people to the workings of the legal system.
Courtesy of Surrey Magistrates Association

Magistrates are unpaid public servants who deal with 95% of criminal cases. Today they are recruited from all groups in society. They are trained and appraised but are not legally qualified. As a bench of three, they listen to evidence and give reasons for their decisions. Taking into consideration the circumstances of offences and offenders, they use nationally approved guidelines when sentencing. They deal with a huge variety of cases, from assault or theft to careless driving or pollution.

The Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey,Mrs Sarah Goad JP. (2011)

The Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey,Mrs Sarah Goad JP. (2011)

Most cases are dealt with by a financial penalty in proportion to the offender’s income; more serious offences attract a community sentence – such as a curfew, doing unpaid work, attending supervision or training programmes. Magistrates can impose a prison sentence of up to six months but this is used as a last resort.

Magistrates undertake extra training to adjudicate in specialist courts, which have different procedures and range of options. There are youth courts for 10 to 17 year olds and family courts which are civil courts dealing with cases of family breakdown or adoption.

At the annual Judiciary Service in Guildford,the magistrates process behind the High Sheriff  and the judges.  Courtesy of Surrey Magistrates Association.

At the annual Judiciary Service in Guildford, the magistrates process behind the High Sheriff and the judges. Courtesy of Surrey Magistrates Association.

Justices of the Peace continue today, as they have for 650 years, in that tradition of public service “to do right to all… after the laws and usages of this realm.”

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