In Britain, the vast majority of judges (that is, people who decide what should be done with people who commit crimes) are unpaid. They are called “Magistrates”, or “Justices of the Peace” or JPs.
There are about 30000 magistrates in Britain. They are ordinary people who are selected not because they have any legal training but because they have “sound common sense” and understand their fellow human beings. Magistrates are selected by special committees in every town and district. Nobody, not even the Magistrates themselves, knows who is on a special committee in their area. The committee tries to draw Magistrates from as wide a variety of professions and social classes as possible.
Magistrates judge cases in the lower courts. They have no formal legal qualifications, but they are respectable people who are given some training. They give up time voluntarily.
A small proportion of judges are not Magistrates. They are called “High Court Judges” and they deal with the most serious crimes, such as those for which the criminal might be sent to prison for more than a year. High Court Judges, unlike Magistrates, are paid salaries by the State and have legal training.
There is no special training for judges. They are trained as barristers and preside in more serious cases.
In England and Wales a coroner is an independent judicial office holder, appointed and paid for by the relevant local authority.
To become a coroner in England and Wales the applicant must have a degree in a medical or legal field, e.g., criminology or bio-medical sciences. Generally, coroners have had a previous career as a lawyer (solicitor/barrister) or physician of at least five years standing.
This reflects the role of a coroner: to investigate and to determine the cause of death in cases where the death was sudden, unexpected, violent or unnatural, occurred abroad, was suspicious in any way, or happened while the person was under the control of central authority (e.g., in police custody).
Clerks to the Court
Clerk to the court is an officer of the court whose principal duty is to maintain court records and preserve evidence presented during a trial. Clerks look after administrative and legal matters in the courtroom.
In an English Magistrates' Court, where the judges usually have no legal qualifications, the Court Clerk will be legally qualified. The Magistrates decide on the facts at issue; the clerk advises them on the law relating to the case.
A jury consists of twelve people (“jurors”), who are ordinary people chosen at random from the Electoral Register (the list of people who can vote in elections).
The jury listens to the evidence given in court in certain criminal cases and decides whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. If the person is found guilty, the punishment is passed by the presiding judge. Juries are rarely used in civil cases.
Choose the correct definition for each legal profession mentioned in the text.
(a) an officer acting as a judge in the lower courts.
(b) a public official with authority to hear and decide cases in a law court.
(c) a group of people who swear to give a true decision on issues of in a law court.
(d) an official who investigates the cause of any death thought to be violent or unnatural causes.
(e) a lawyer who has the right to speak and argue in higher law courts.
(f) a lawyer who prepares legal documents, advises clients on legal and speaks for them in lower law courts.
Answer the questions:
What kind of judges is unpaid in Britain?
How are the Magistrates selected?
May the Magistrates judge cases in the High Court?
Do the Magistrates get high salaries?
Is it necessary to have any special education to become a Coroner?