Letter: Magistrates

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The Independent Culture

Sir: A barrister as distinguished as Anthony Scrivener QC is unlikely to have recent personal experience of a magistrate's court, and his remarks (30 July) about these courts and the magistracy bear little relationship to current practice. As a lay magistrate of about 10 years' experience, I find his comments about our relationship with the police incredible. I have never seen any evidence of such closeness. On my bench, women are in a majority; few courts are constituted from members of only one sex, though as a bench has three members, one sex will be in a majority. I cannot understand his remarks about judges and magistrates having a position to maintain. Judges do not in general decide verdicts. , as do juries, decide their cases to the best of their ability on the evidence put before them: their verdicts do not affect their position, whatever that may be.

It would be a pity if these sideswipes against magistrates' courts were allowed to obscure discussion of some important principles.

First, he comments on lone male stipendiaries. Not all stipendiary magistrates are male. There is an important question as to whether it is ever right for a single individual to determine guilt after a trial.

Secondly, some offences can be heard only in a magistrate's court. Some of these are serious and can result in serious consequences to the reputation and employment prospects of those found guilty. Given that defendants accused of such offences already have no choice of tribunal the Government is talking about moving boundaries rather than introducing a new principle. The question that remains is: where there is a choice of tribunal, who should exercise it?


Alton, Hampshire