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Abolish Magistrates’ Courts

Comment 1st July 2010

The US started the war of Independence for the sake of Jury trial, as it is so obvious that no lesser trial system is capable of delivering real justice to the people.

The UK Magistrates' court system encourages police misbehaviour – as well as misappropriation of arbitrary powers that no parliament has given them – is a complete lottery for everyone involved, emphasising speed, arbitrariness, incomplete/sloppy investigation, over justice, careful consideration, due process, etcetera.

There is now a recognition that there should be a presumption against prison sentences of less than 3 months; a Magistrates' Court's basic sentencing power is limited to 6 months, more serious cases being referred up to the Crown Court; less serious cases, those where a non-custodial sentence would be a matter of course, should virtually all be ripe for a pruning of petty offences, so that we recognize that as a general rule, no criminal law is worthwhile unless 12 citizens are prepared to devote their time to listening to the evidence.

There would necessarily be a rôle for a Traffic Court, to handle driving offences, as well as, perhaps, a very minor behaviour court – the original notion of the 'police court' that morphed into a Magistrates' court; naturally the 2 minimal courts could be effectively one court.

A simple guide could be that all imprisonable offences be tried in the Crown Court.

Why does this matter?

Law/Order is an area that is traditionally viewed as important; during the Thatcher years we witnessed an increasingly rabid approach to limiting civil liberties; then Blair's promise to manage 'the causes of crime' was less farsighted than it could have been; now British society is witnessing a lack of basic respect for the law. For what reason? That enforcement of the law is basically too arbitrary. People have no respect for a law that fails to respect their own humanity. One clear measure to redress that balance is what you are doing, listening to peoples' views of what substantive laws need changing.

However it must be recognized that procedural laws are largely to blame too; our police, living in a society that is inherently fair-minded, are viewed as self-serving; both from the point of view of victims who see their cases dropped when it is somehow inconvenient to the authorities [usually to obey the very laws they should be enforcing!], then from the point of view of those accused of offences, who see meager lip-service paid to the presumption of innocence.

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