On Friday, May 15, we were able to go to the Westminster Magistrates Courts. This is the lowest of the court systems in Great Britain. We had a tour guide this day, and she used to be a lawyer, so she was able to give us a lot of information. We learned the different levels of a crime, who every one in the courtroom is, what their jobs are, and a lot more.
There are three different levels of crimes that are used in the courts. The lowest type of crime can be tried only at the magistrate courts. The next level of crime is a crime where the defendant can choose if they want to be tried at the magistrate court or the Crown Court and the judges can also decide if the crime is out of their jurisdiction and can bump them up to the Crown Court. The most serious of crimes is always tried at the Crown Court. Now all three levels of crimes always start out at the Magistrate Courts. For the middle offense crime, a defendant has a tough decision to make. They can either have their case tried convince three people that they are innocent at the Magistrate Court level, or they can be tried and try to convince twelve people that they are innocent at the Crown Court level. In both cases though it has to be a unanimous vote. There are also district judges that are in the Magistrate Courts. The difference between a lay judge and a district judge is a district judge had to be lawyer for at least 7 years before becoming a judge. The lay judges are just volunteers, explaining why they have to have a legal advisor.
At the magistrate court level there are a number of different people. There are three people called the lay judges, who find the truth and law and decide the sentencing of the defendant. There is also a legal advisor, this person will make sure that the lay judges are giving the right sentencing and/or fines that are needed. The Prosecution and Defense lawyer sit facing the legal advisor and lay judges. The defendant is behind a glass wall with a security guard. There is also a probation/parole officer that will sit in on the case incase the defendant is given probation/parole. In other levels of court there is also just one judge called the district judge. At the highest court, called the Crown Court there will be twelve jury members also.
We were able to sit on a few cases, and one case really shocked me. So this girl was in court for five different actions. I don’t remember the whole list of events that happened, but I do remember the gist of the case. This girl assaulted five separate officers by spitting on them, hitting, or head butting them, all of these things happened in the same day but at different times during the day and at different places. The girl was taken to the hospital and then was released that very same day back into the community. The defendant ended up pleading guilty to all five accusations. This girl’s defense lawyer was using a mental health disorder episode to describe why the defendant assaulted the five officers. The girl was given an all options report and has to return to court in June. While the girl is waiting to go back to court she is on certain probation restrictions, which we do not know as the probation officer talked to her after, and she has to get test for mental health issues. This case really surprised me because if we would have done that in the states we would have been in jail until trial and would have had gotten sent to prison that day for a long time. This case was tried in front of the lay judges.
After this case was over we went to go see a case that had a district judge, and to show how they move faster than cases with lay judges. When we walked, the court was waiting for the defendant to show up. It turned out that the defendant was actually being held at a jail in another district of London for a crime they committed the night before. So the judge ended up moving the case to another day. Unfortunately that was the last case the District Judge was supposed to do. The court then had lunch, and because some of the other courtrooms were behind, the district judge was going to take on some of their cases to help them out. We weren’t able to return after lunch because our tour guide had other plans for the afternoon, so we weren’t ever able to experience the district judge in action.