March 2013 articles archive:

The role of judges.

Shared with the kind permission of Ben Matthews, Student.

The judge is an important figure in the English trial system. The significance of the role arises from the nature of the trial process itself. In the English trial process the result of a case can hinge very largely on what happens during the trial. We do, after all, have an  adversarial system whereby legal representatives battle it out to help determine the truth about what may have happened.

 

This is because in our criminal justice system a great deal of emphasis is placed upon the evidence that needs to be heard by the  jury. Not all countries operate in the same way and have, instead, an inquisitorial system with investigating judges or magistrates. Where these systems operate, much of the work is done before trial.

 

The judge in an English trial plays many parts.

 

The judge supervises the conduct of the trial. It is of course up to the parties and their lawyers to present their cases whether civil or criminal but the judge is there to make sure that the rules are kept and that the trial flows as it should. A judge should be fair and impartial. A judge must mange the trial and ensure that procedures are followed but without interfering too much.

 

In civil cases the judge has to decide the result. Apart from rare libel cases juries have in practice disappeared from civil trials. The judge has become the one decision maker. He or she must decide who wins and who loses but also the amount of damages to award or how to distribute money or property in family cases or which parent should have custody of the children.

 

When giving judgement the judge may have to interpret and clarify the law when there are gaps in it or where it is unclear. Some would say that judges go further and actually create the law through the principles of  judicial precedent although this is dependent upon the level of the court in the court hierarchy.

 

The judge has sole responsibility for any legal issues that arise during the trial in particular about the admissibility of evidence. This is especially important in criminal trials where the case may turn on whether certain evidence can be put to the jury or not. A judge may have to make a number of legal rulings during the course of the trial.

 

In a criminal trial the judge has the important task of summing up the evidence for the jury. The  verdict is the sole decision of the jury but it is the judges duty to guide them on the law and to summarise impartially the key factual points given by the witnesses in their evidence. Cases have been won or lost on a judges summing up. Juries resent being told what verdict to reach and this would be grounds of appeal. Poor summing up may well be counterproductive.

 

Finally a judge has to pass sentence on defendants who have pleaded guilty or who have been convicted following a trial by a jury. The judge is confined by limits laid down by the law and within sentencing guidelines issued by the  Sentencing Council . The Court of Appeal also gives guidance about levels of sentencing.

Judges, Tribunals and Magistrates | About the judiciary

 

 

 

Judges

Lawyers

Juries

Magistrates

To become a judge you must be legally qualified and must have previous experience in the courts.

To become a lawyer you only need to be legally qualified and qualified to appear in the courts. No experience is needed.

Juries don't need any qualifications – they are selected at random and it is seen as a public duty. This is the public's way of helping out in the legal system.

Magistrates are not qualified either but they do receive some training especially in the first three years after their appointment.

The role of the judge is to preside over the trial. He or she does this by making sure all parties follow procedures and rules. This is very important to the trial. This ensures that no party is treated unfairly.

The role of the lawyer is to prepare a case for their clients. The lawyer is there to act as an advocate (legal representative). The lawyer will assess the strength of the evidence when putting the case together. An important role of the lawyer is to advise their client on the chances of success.

Members of the jury listen to the evidence that they have heard or seen. Their role is not only important as it represents a 'trial by ones peers', but can be difficult due to the amount of evidence or its nature such as forensic evidence.

The role of the Magistrates is to adjudicate in the case of a summary trial. Magistrates are expected to have a range of skills and qualities which enable them to effectively deal with criminal cases.

Judges must act impartially and without bias. Judges are appointed to a case in view of their qualification and experience which will help them deal with the case.

Lawyers come about when they are appointed by a client. Lawyers must also act responsibly towards the court. Their role means that they present their client's case and argue points of law and question witnesses.

Juries are there to decide on the question of whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. The burden of proof in criminal cases is 'beyond all reasonable doubt' – in other words 'can they be sure'. In civil cases the burden of proof is 'on the balance of probabilities' which is lower.

97% of criminal cases are dealt with by  Magistrates' Courts. The remaining more serious cases are sent to the Crown Court.

Judges have the responsibility to direct and help the jury as to what the law is. The judge will also sum up the evidence for the jury towards the end of the trial.

Lawyers also make opening and closing speeches about their client's case. Defence lawyers will advise their clients about their rights of appeal.

Juries are not allowed to divulge information about their deliberations in the jury room. 

Lay Magistrates can be involved with appeals to the Crown court when they sit with a judge.

Judges also have the responsibility of releasing the jury when their job is done.

Lawyers do not hold any responsibility for the jury but have to ensure that they can follow the evidence.

May be excused from jury service in the future by the judge.

Magistrates don't work with a jury. Magistrates decide the case themselves. Magistrates are helped by a legal adviser as to the law.

Judges receive a salary.

Lawyers are often self-employed (work for themselves) and are paid according to the amount of work they do.  They will be paid on a case basis.

Jurors receive expenses only.  They are not paid as such.

Lay Magistrates are unpaid volunteers.  Magistrates receive expenses.

One criticism of judges is that they come from an elitist background.

Solicitors and Barristers come from a wider background, there are criticisms that Barristers also tend to come from an elitist background.

Juries are selected at random from the Electoral Roll so this tends to negate any problems over background.

Magistrates are more involved with the community but there can be criticisms that they are 'middle aged, middle class and middle minded'.

There are gender and ethnicity issues meaning that there are not enough female judges or representatives of ethnic minorities in the judiciary.

The question of equality and diversity is more balanced but there are still issues with females lawyers not being seen in certain roles e.g. not enough applications from women to become Queen's Counsel . Women may feel that they have to work harder than men to get recognised.

There do not appear to be gender and ethnicity issues for the jury as they are chosen randomly and their selection is a matter of chance.

There is more balance over gender and ethnicity. This may be because these issues have been addressed locally and lower down the judiciary and court hierarchy it may be easier to acquire a place at this level.

(for latest figures) Equalities minister: ‘A judiciary for our times needs more women and minorities.'

Magistrates statistics on gender, age, ethnicity and disability 2012 (Excel 34kb

Training to be a barrister | Law | The Guardian

Juries? It's time they went the way of the ducking stool | Simon

Barristers | Law | The Guardian

Trio of judicial appointments to the Supreme Court - The Supreme ..

 

 

 

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