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Mode of Trial and the Influence of Local Justice

NCJ Number
Howard Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 43 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2004 Pages: 65-78
Andrew Herbert
Date Published
February 2004
14 pages
This study examined variations in committal rates among three magistrates’ courts in the United Kingdom.
Inconsistencies in decisionmaking between magistrates courts has peaked the concerned interested of researchers and policymakers. Evidence suggests that the likelihood of being sentenced to a term of imprisonment is much higher in some areas of the country than in others. Adverse media attention and the erosion of public confidence in the justice system may be the result of such variations in the application of justice. The current study employed four main methods to examine variations in committal rates among three magistrates’ courts. First, statistical analysis was conducted of the committal rates at the three courts, which are located in the Midlands and Home Counties. Second, direct observations were made of 340 pleas before venue procedures in the 3 courts over a 7-month period. Third, 1,168 court registers that offered details on either-way decisions were analyzed over a 3-month period. All the observed and recorded cases were followed through to their completion in the court registers. The fourth and final method was the use of semi-structured interviews with 38 lay and stipendiary magistrates, court legal advisers, and defense solicitors. Findings reveal the committal rates between the three courts had a widely divergent range of between 18 percent and 48 percent. The main reason for such variation in committal rates was found within the individual court cultures that have evolved as a consequence of an implicit belief in the concept of local justice. The majority of magistrates held the opinion that while differences between courts should be of some concern, the overriding factor for judges in making their committal decisions was their role of serving local peoples, and thus responding to local ideas about justice. Thus, the primary reason for variations in decisionmaking patterns between courts located in different areas of the country lies in the culture of individual courts and the local communities they serve. Notes, references