Monday 12 October 2009

The role of lay people in the legal system

There is an argument for the completely professional judiciary. In many civil law systems, should you come before a court or tribunal, the person presiding over the case will be a fully trained and qualified judge. In both England and the USA non-legally qualified people continue to play a key role.

The right to trial by jury is entrenched in the VIth [Criminal cases] and VIIth [Civil cases] amendments to the US Constitution. In England (as entrenchment is incompatible with the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament), it lacks that protection - and a number of attempts have been made to reduce the availability of jury trials.

The argument for jury trials can be summarised as follows - Jury trial "is a fundamental right and an essential safeguard for the rule of law. Juries provide a barrier against oppressive and politically motivated prosecutions. They enhance the transparency of the court process and promote public confidence in the criminal justice system." (per - Law Society)

A more detailed argument can be found in the following article

In England lay magistrates continue to play a key role in the legal system. They deal with about 91% of criminal cases [95% of cases are finally dealt with in Magistrates Courts, but the 4% difference reflects the role played by Stipendiary [legally qualified Magistrates who sit alone, usually in the larger urban areas] Magistrates] - only the most serious are heard by a Judge and jury in the Crown Court. A detailed discussion of the value of magistrates can be read here.

Direct Gov has an article about becoming a magistrate and the work it involves.