Letter: Why many opt for the Crown Courts

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your 'No confidence verdict on JPs' (leading article, 22 April) is misconceived through a muddled analysis of the reasons why defendants choose to go to the Crown Court, apparently for jury trial, but then plead guilty.

Defendants do not 'choose to risk incurring the wrath of a judge by pleading guilty to a minor offence in the Crown Court', instead of doing so at the magistrates' court. Before defendants are asked by the magistrates' court to choose whether to be tried there (quite quickly) or by a judge and jury (much later), they are cautioned in the following terms: if they choose to be tried by a magistrates' court, and plead guilty or are found guilty, the magistrates may still send them to the Crown Court to be sentenced by a judge, whose powers of punishment will be greater; but the magistrates may only do so if they decide their maximum powers of punishment would be insufficient (six months' custody or up to pounds 5,000 fine, or both). The so-called 'wrath of a judge' is, therefore, always a 'risk' run by defendants whether they are tried by magistrates or by juries.

One of the reasons why defendants choose to be tried by a jury, but which you did not examine, is also well known: juries cannot be compelled by defendants to give their reasons for convicting, unlike magistrates, who can be required by defendants (and by prosecutors) to justify their verdicts in writing for review by the High Court which can overturn convictions or acquittals. For many defendants, that is a compelling reason for choosing jury trial.

Furthermore, many defendants opt to 'go' to the Crown Court (and not necessarily 'go for jury trial') because doing so buys them more time to examine and consider the prosecution evidence, their defence, their eventual plea, and to put their affairs in order before possible conviction and sentence. Defendants who do so are not, thereby, necessarily demonstrating a 'powerful vote of no confidence in the magistrates' courts'. Just as the large number of defendants who opt to be dealt with by magistrates' courts are not, thereby, necessarily exhibiting dissatisfaction with judges and juries.

Yours sincerely,



Justices' Clerks' Society

London, NW10

22 April