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Report on Court Room

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Submitted By benzer911
Words 2464
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This report is based on my observations carried out in two Courts in England and Wales precisely in Manchester. The report is in two parts, one on civil jurisdiction and the other one on criminal jurisdiction. This visit has afforded me the opportunity of witnessing “law in action” different from “law in books”. I have also been able to compare both the civil and criminal process and proceedings.
The two courts I visited are both in Manchester. The Crown court I visited is situated in an old building commissioned years ago whereas the magistrate court is situated in an ultra modern building commissioned not too long ago. I have read books and journals enumerating the differences between the judges and magistrates. This court room observation has given me he on the sport assessment of the differences between the two courts and many other questions that I will be addressing in the course of this report…
As we were advised, my first visit to the courts (Magistrate and Crown Courts) was to find out about the time and the cases. I discovered that youth cases and family are not opened to the public and at this point, I was able to decide on the dates to attend the courts and the types of cases to observe.
“The Magistrates’ courts are purely the courts of first instance”. The Magistrates in England and Wales are lay men without the knowledge of law and they are also referred to as “Justices of the Peace” but they are assisted by a Justice’ clerk who is legally qualified and they are to assist and give advices on legal issues. A larger percentage (95%) of their cases is of criminal cases and the court is also divided into three divisions, the adult, the family and the youth. Magistrate’s court deals with the trials of summary offences, committals to the Crown Courts, family proceedings court and the youth courts.
Also, legally qualified magistrates may preside over a case alone. In the past, they are referred to as stipendiary as they were being paid stipends to cover their costs but they are now being referred to as District Judges. (Criminal)…
The first court I visited for observation was the magistrate court in Manchester and thereafter, I visited the Crown court also in Manchester. On the day of my visit to the magistrate court, I was subjected to search by the security men at the entrance to the court building. After the clearance, I went to the reception and spoke with the staffs introducing myself as a student who is there to observe court proceedings with a view to writing a report after my observation. I was given the list of cases for the day and directed to the floor where the court room is situated. When I got to the floor, I saw a help desk and there were three women all dressed in black suits and I explained my mission to them. They looked into the list of cases for the day, gave us some briefings on the progress of the cases and we were told that the family and the youth cases are not open to the public. The help desk is also charged with the responsibility of making sure that the defendants and their lawyers are ready for the hearing to commence. At the magistrate court, I saw a duty Solicitor whose duty is to act on behalf of defendants who may have no Solicitor to act on their behalf.
In view of the fact that cases that are being tried at the magistrate courts are of less serious crimes, the environment appears safe, secure and friendlier. Defendants were seen with their Solicitors going in and coming out. There are also consultation rooms where the Solicitors and the defendants are seen having discussions before the commencement of the hearings. The hearing of cases was supposed to commence at 10.00 am but this was not so as defendants and their lawyers arrived late and unprepared thereby causing delay of the hearing.
In a magistrate court, there are three magistrates sitting together and with the most senior of them being the chairman. After a decision is taken, he is charged with the responsibility of reading out the sentence.
The civil case that I observed at the magistrate court was on a road traffic offence. (Speed camera). According to the prosecutor, the defendant was brought before the court for failing to pay the penalty imposed on him despite several letters of demand written to him. He was not represented by a lawyer because he could not afford it. When the case was read to him, he was asked if he understood the charges and to which he answered yes.
He immediately pleaded guilty and pleaded before the magistrate that his nonpayment was not deliberate. According to him, he was laid off work since December 2009 and as at that time, he has no source of income and that he and his family of four had been living on the weekly allowance being paid by the government.
After listening to his defense, one of the magistrates asked if he has secured another job and he replied no. The magistrates then deliberated on this issue and the chairman then gave their verdict.
The chairman said they appreciated his problem of not having the means of paying the fine but he was of the opinion that his silence or ignoring the letters of demand was an act of irresponsibility. He was fined £120.00 with six points on his drivers’ license. He was allowed to pay the fine on installment ally and to be paid up within three months.
Another case observed was about road accident that happened in Wigan. This case was presided over by a District Judge. In the court room, there was the court clerk who is legally qualified, a secretary, the claimants’ lawyer, the defense lawyer, the lawyer representing the insurance company, the claimant and the defendant.
We were made to stand up when the District judge was about entering the court room and as soon as he was seated, we were all seated again. It was the claimants’ lawyer that started by addressing the court. He started by introducing himself as the claimants’ lawyer. The claimant was brought to the dock and the lawyer was reading from the file he brought to court containing the material fact s and other evidences in respect of the case. This case is about an accident that occurred while the claimant was driving to work.
According to her report, a green Omega Vauxhall collided with her car from the rear and her car was seriously damaged. When the accident occurred, she was too frightened that she only managed to collect a complimentary card from the driver of the other car and the car registration was also recorded by her. Later that day, the claimant telephoned the insurance company of the defendant’s car so as to raise a claim against the insurance company. The claimant contacted a lawyer about the damage to her car and to raise an injury claim against the defendant’s insurance company.
The next person to address the court was the defendant’s lawyer. He started by introducing himself and his client and thereafter started the cross examination of the claimant by asking questions based on the report written on the accident by the claimant.
In the claimant’s report, she described the colour of the defendant’s car as green, the defendant’s age as early forties, and of Asian origin. She also described the defendant as a man with moustache with a height of roughly six feet tall.
The first question asked by the defense lawyer was that the claimant should give the description of the defendant’s car to which the claimant replied green.
The next question was that the claimant should give the description of the defendant’s appearance. Her reply was similar to the one she had in her report.
Based on the claimants description, the judge and everyone present was able to discover a discrepancy in the description of the defendant involved in the accident and the defendant present in court.
The defense lawyer also brought a letter written by the defendant’s employer confirming that the defendant was at work as at the time of the accident as stated by the claimant.
It came to the turn of the lawyer representing the insurance company to cross examine the claimant. The claimant was again asked to describe the colour of the car that was involved in the accident and her reply was not different from the answer she gave earlier on. The insurance lawyer also asked the claimant to look at a picture taken at the scene of the accident which is an exhibit to support her claim and asked her to identify the defendant present in court from the people in the picture. The claimant could not identify the defendant from the men in the picture.
At this point, the claimant who is heavily pregnant started crying uncontrollably so much that the judge had to rise despite the plea of her lawyer and the judge to stop crying and for the court to reconvene at 14.15pm the same day.
I had to leave and could not comeback to witness what happened when the court reconvened later that day.
My experience that day proves to me that it is one thing to have a good case and it is another thing for the claimant to be careful while writing a report.
Both the defense lawyer and the insurance lawyer had a good case based on the cross examination of the claimant. I could not attend the court later that day and as such, I am unable to know the verdict of the district judge.
Unlike my visit to the magistrate court, the environment at the crown court is completely different from that of the magistrate court. There are many security officers at the entrance to the building and more time were spent searching visitors and people entering the premises. After the security post is a reception where both men and women are seated attending to people and a list containing the cases of the day is displayed on a table for people to see.
There are eight consultation rooms where barristers/solicitors and defendants were seeing entering and coming out for briefings before the commencement of hearings. Above the entrance of each court room was a monitor displaying all cases to be heard for that day and the name of the judge presiding over the cases. In the court room were two flat screen television mounted on top of the wall facing the public gallery.
The televisions were there for video conferencing and this enables defendants that may not be able to travel to court to watch the proceedings and be asked question during the hearing. It also enables the witnesses to give their evidences at a designated place while the court is in session.
The first case observed was in court 3 where a young man in his early thirties was brought to court for a review of the report written on him by the probate officer. The man was electronically tagged for six months and he was on a community service. Based on my observation, a copy of this report must have been read by the judge as she wasted no time in commenting on this report. The judge was full of praises of the man for his efforts during the probation period and what he achieved during the community service. She (the judge) immediately ordered that the tag on him should be removed and be allowed to live a free life again.
I was able to see a maternal feelings from the judge towards this young man as the judge advised him to feel free to contact her by coming to court for any assistance if need be. She also emphasize that she is interested in making sure that this young man continues in his efforts of living a life free of crime that will definitely have an impact on his future life.
The next observation was in the same court of the crown court also in Manchester. A defendant referred from the magistrate court for lack of jurisdiction was brought to court hand cuffed and guided by the prison official/security and charged for attempted murder. The first to speak was the prosecuting barrister who addressed the court by reading the charges against the defendant. The defendant whom I will be referring to as Mr. X (an asylum seeker) was a neighbour to Mr. Y living next to each other on the same street. On several occasions, Mr. X has alleged Mr. Y of racial discrimination by calling him nigger, black monkey and has always shouted on him asking him to go back to his country.
However, on a Sunday afternoon, Mr. X’s son played a football to Mr. Y’s garden and an attempt by Mr. X’s son to get the ball from Mr. Y’s garden led to an argument that resulted to a physical fight. Mr. Y was alleged to have brought out a knife wanting to stab Mr. X.
Mr. X dispossessed Mr. Y of the knife and Mr. X used the same knife to stab Mr. Y thereby causing him (GBH) grievous bodily harm.
The defense lawyer pleaded a not guilty on behalf of his client for three reasons. The reasons are that his client was provoked, discriminated against and that the act of the defendant was for self defense.
At the point when the defense lawyer was addressing the court, I saw the juries very attentive and they were busy taking notes except one of them whose body language suggests that he was very angry with the defense lawyer. The case was adjourned till another time and I left the court.
The situation in the court that day reminds me of some of the criticism of trial by jury such as being expensive, non public confidence, secrecy of the jury room. It also reminds me of the advantages such as open system of justice, impartiality and jury equity etc.
In conclusion, my visit and observation of court room proceedings has shown me the role of the magistrates, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, clerks, claimants and defendants in. I have also been able to see what impact the behaviour of a defendant can have on the decision of a judge/magistrate.
It will be wrong to assume that the criminal justice system is flawless and as such, the various reforms that are being suggested should be considered.

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