Letter: Putting the case for magistrates' courts

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Sir: Your leading article of 22 April ('No confidence verdict on JPs') suggests that many of the defendants electing trial by jury do so because of a lack of confidence in the magistrates' courts and in the belief that they will receive a fairer trial and/or a lighter sentence in the Crown Court.

These concerns - which are to a great extent encouraged by legal advisers - must, as you say, be put at rest and, indeed, the evidence already exists to refute them. Home Office research published in 1992 (Mode of trial decisions and sentencing, Helderman and Moxon) shows that most defendants electing Crown Court end up pleading guilty by the time of the trial.

In many cases, the decision achieves nothing but delay, additional time spent on remand (possibly in custody) and a more severe sentence than might have been awarded in the magistrates' court - yet most of the defendant's decisions were in line with legal advice.

Defendants and their legal advisers need have no doubts about the fairness of trial in the magistrates' courts - which deal with more than 95 per cent of all criminal cases each year at about one-tenth of the cost per case in the Crown Court.

Magistrates are better trained now than ever. They are trained to be impartial and to make a judicial decision on the basis of all the submissions put before them - not, as you unfairly suggest, solely on the basis of the prosecutor's proposals.

Yours sincerely,


Chairman of Council

The Magistrates' Association

London, W1

26 April