Published: 28/03/2016
ISBN: 9781785891045
eISBN: 9781785894763
Format: Paperback/eBook

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Summary Justice
Are Magistrates Up To It?
by Roger Farrington

Summary Justice: Are Magistrates Up to It? is concerned with the criminal justice system and with the part of magistrates within it. It opens with a description of a magistrates’ court in session, bringing out what an open-minded observer might find perplexing – which is quite a lot.

The book draws largely on Farrington’s own experience as a Justice of the Peace and quotes liberally from the record he made at the time. This brings out vividly what magistrates do and highlights the problems, especially with the sentencing of offenders and with the grant or withholding of bail.

Farrington discusses inefficiencies within the system. He shows how some of these are only apparent, and follow from the need to treat everyone fairly, while others badly need correction.

Summary Justice explains how there came to be two kinds of magistrate: lay magistrates (Justices of the Peace), unpaid, sitting in benches of three, with a clerk to advise them; also stipendiary magistrates, now called district judges, legally qualified and sitting solo. He considers how well magistrates’ courts do their job and – especially – how competent lay magistrates are. He finds that the system is at least passable but in need of improvement and concludes by weighing up the radical alternative of merging the two kinds.

This book is directed to all concerned with the criminal justice system: policy-makers, magistrates, legal practitioners, journalists, law students, and members of the public considering applying for appointment as lay magistrates.

The House of Commons Justice Committee is now engaged in a scrutiny of the magistracy and of magistrates's courts. The author has submitted written evidence to the Committee, based on this book. This conveys his view of how it stands with the lay magistracy in particular and makes the case for amalgamating it with the stipendiary magistracy (now called district judiciary) which works alongside it. Here is something that is topical and likely to be contentious.

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Farrington has here produced a lucid depiction of the lay magistracy that strikes a good balance between engaging personal recounts drawn from his years as a justice of the peace and an historical account of the administration of summary justice with thought-provoking recommendations for its improvement. Often receiving less media attention and public focus than the actions of higher courts, summary proceedings constitute the vast body of criminal law administration and arguably exerts far more day-to-day influence on ordinary people. Consequently, there should be an impetus to understand the nature of this system and Farrington's account is an accessible and stimulating overview. As an Australian law student, the book facilitates an interesting comparison of the processes of the English and New South Wales summary processes and despite their differences, many similar challenges face our respective institutions. Summary Justice provides insight relevant to any consideration of fairness and proper administration of justice and I strongly recommend it.

by Henry


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