|Kidderminster Magistrates Court|
In modern times, they perform most of their duties within the Magistrates' Courts and the modern "bench" is made up of people from all walks of life who give of their time freely and are paid relatively minimal expenses (e.g. cost of travel to and from court). They receive training for their work but are advised in court on the relevant law and procedure by legal advisers who, nowadays, are usually barristers or solicitors. Since the Courts Act 2003, there is a single Commission of the Peace for England and Wales and Magistrates' Courts serve "Local Justice Areas" but the number of such areas is being reduced considerably by the government's cull of court buildings - a cull which started under the previous government.
Here is "The Big Society" in positive action. The late Senior Law Lord and former Lord Chief Justice - Lord Bingham of Cornhill - described the magistracy as a jewel beyond price and it gives
members of local communities a key role in the administration of justice. They deal - competently - with around 95% of those criminal cases which are brought to court. They man the Youth Courts and Family Proceedings Courts. Yet, on the eve of their 650th year, many of the justices are concerned at matters such as the loss of local courts; the greater use of out-of-court methods of dealing with offenders (sometimes quite serious offenders) and the increasing numbers of District Judges (Magistrates' Courts) sitting in the Magistrates' Court. The latter are professionally qualified, command a salary in the region of £100,000 p.a., usually sit alone and have the full powers of the Magistrates' Court. There is a feeling that the work of the Justices of the Peace - (or "lay justices" as they are now sometimes called) - is no longer valued or appreciated and that they are being "sidelined" into very routine and undemanding work.
An article in The Telegraph 29th December argues that Justice will not be served by downgrading Justices of the Peace. The author - Mr Trevor Grove J.P. wrote:-
Trevor Grove JP is the author of "The Magistrates' Tale: A Frontline Report from a new JP"