Monday, May 18, 2015

Magistrate's Court Visit in Westminster

I mentioned in one of my pre-departure blog posts about the differences of the courts from the United States and London. On Friday, we got the opportunity to visit the Westminster Magistrate’s Court and we got to sit in on a few different cases. One important thing I learned was that lawyers here are called solicitors. To me this was very strange as I always thought of a solicitor selling something and usually something you wouldn’t want to buy. However, here a solicitor is someone who helps you in court and is equivalent to our lawyers.
As I mentioned before, Magistrates court involves a panel of usually three civilians that sit up front where our judge would sit and are the triers of fact and triers of law. The court room itself is quite a bit different than those in the United States. The defendant is locked behind a glass section on the right hand side of the room whether they have been remanded in jail or have been out on bail. The prosecutor and defense solicitor sit beside each other on the right side of the room, but just left to the glass divider where the defendant sits. Just in front of the solicitors is a legal advisor which is a person that gives legal advice to the three magistrates making sure the decisions they make are legal. On the left hand side of the room is a probation officer. In the back there is a section that is also blocked off by glass for the public to sit. The glass has slits in it so you can hear what is going on. It is really important to be super quiet because the rooms are so small that everyone can hear absolutely everything.

We got the opportunity to listen to three different cases. The first was a gentleman that was remanded in jail and he had over 90 offenses on his record. We missed the beginning, so I never figured out what he had done. The gentleman only received four weeks imprisonment for what he had done. Keep in mind he had over 90 offenses before this one. In the United States his sentence would have been much longer than four weeks.

The next case was another gentleman that was accused of stealing a 5c IPhone off of a train. He plead not guilty. The Magistrates court is the lowest court here which is equivalent to our District Court. The magistrates here can decide whether or not they feel they are qualified to hear the case in the Magistrates Court or whether they should refer it to the Royal Court. This is the next court up. The magistrates said they could handle the case but the defendant gets to choose whether to keep their case at the Magistrates Court or bump it up. He chose to bump it up.

The last case was really interesting. It dealt with a girl that was 24 and she was accused of assaulting 5 police officers in the same day. She scratched one, spit at two officers, punched another, and head-butted the fifth officer.  This girl was a teeny tiny girl and it was hard to picture her being able to do all of this. The girl actually was sitting back in the back with us at one point and was happy and giggly. Then she was called to go to the glass box and her demeanor changed. She even started crying during the hearing and they gave her some water and tissues. The girl plead guilty on all accounts. Come to find out, she was suffering from Bulimia, Anorexia, and a mental disorder. She had a period of four weeks where a report would be filed with the probation officer to find out what punishment would be suitable for her. They left it open so she could get imprisonment, community work, or as little as a fine.

We also got to see a case that the defendant didn’t show up and the Judge extended the trial. We didn’t get to see much because the defendant wasn’t here. I did notice that the Judge was way more efficient that the three magistrates because he is legally trained and knows more about the law.

The differences in the Magistrates Court from our courts were amazing. It was really great to see the differences in person rather than just learning about them and not being able to actually see it happening.


  1. Hmmmm...they must be very cautious, compared to the U.S. about safety in the courtroom. Prolly not a bad thing....although IDK how often criminals or suspects have actually assaulted lawyers in the courtroom here!

  2. NEAT!! Sounds like some Interesting Cases!! So the one hat chose to move up, isn't it going to be even HARDER for him to Prove if he moves up!!?? THANKS for sharing and have a FABULOUS WEEK!! =)