Magistrates’ Courts

There remain around 200 operational UK Magistrates’ Courts (called Justice of the Peace (JP) Courts in Scotland) after many closures in recent years, perhaps indicating that Brits are more law-abiding these days. Alas no, since this seems to have caused a backlog of cases waiting to be heard!

Nearly all criminal as well as civil, ‘summary’ offences ~ such as motoring violations, minor assault or damage, burglary and drug-related offences ~ are dealt with at the Magistrates’ Court, even if this is only to determine that a serious, ‘indictable’ offence should go up to the Crown Court for trial and/or greater punishment than the maximum 6 months in prison, per offence, (60 days in Scotland) available to be meted out at Magistrate/JP level. The lower Court is also limited in the amount of fines that can be demanded.

Cases in a Magistrates’ Court are judged either by a panel of three (or sometimes two) Magistrates/JPs, who are unpaid trained volunteers, or by one district judge, who is a paid legal professional. There is also a legal advisor, an usher, a prosecutor and usually a defence solicitor. Witnesses can be brought in and the public and press can sit and watch, but there is no jury.

(Image: Betty Longbottom at / CC BY-SA 2.0)


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