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Crime and punishment in Great Britain
The UK judicial system Britain is the classic example of the parliamentary system. The British constitution has evolved over many centuries. Unlike the constitutions of most other countries, it is not set out in any single document. Instead it is made up of statute law, common law and conventions, which are derived from the historical events through which the British system of government has evolved. The UK judicial system is characterized by some unique features that differ it from other national judicial systems. One of such features is that in fact there is no unified judicial system in the country. English courts are rather several court systems than a single system. Historically, the British judicial system is nothing but a product of evolutionary development of judicial institutions in the country for more than 900 years. The development was largely chaotic and spontaneous, under the pressure of specific circumstances, through the preferential development of its lower structural formations. No wonder, therefore, that for many centuries of such a development the English courts have lost their original organizational unity and integrity. The Judiciary plays a vital part in British Politics. The Judiciary should be apolitical and any judgments made, for example on government legislation, have to be made without any form of political bias.
The role of Judiciary in Britain and Judges While the legislature passes laws and the executive implements them, the judiciary interprets them in cases of dispute. The judiciary’s primary role is to interpret and apply the law that Parliament has laid down. The judges also have a crucial role in developing the common law. However, because Parliament is sovereign, Parliament may always legislate to change or override the common law position.
Judges should not be seen as civil servants. The Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister and/or the Lord Chancellor appoints them. Traditionally, judges have been barristers before being appointed. However, solicitors can now be judges in the Crown Court. There is no one Whitehall office that looks after the affairs of judges – which is why they cannot be seen as being civil servants. It is also this that supports the view that the judiciary is independent of the government. Independent professional bodies (who members are appointed by those in the profession) scrutinise the work of both barristers and solicitors – the argument being that those appointed to the bench are of the highest calibre and are at the top of their professional tree.
Role of the judiciary The Lord Chancellor consults the Lord Chief Justice on the need for new appointments to the courts. The Lord Chief Justice seeks the views of the Presiding Judges for appointments below the High Court. For the High Court, the Heads of Division advise. Judges are a major source of the references provided by applicants, and are consulted by the JAC on applicants before assessment is completed. Before the JAC puts its recommendations to the Lord Chancellor, the Commission is required to consult the Lord Chief Justice and another person who has held the office for which a selection is to be made, or has other relevant experience. Although the JAC is not obliged to follow the consultees’ views, this input means that the judiciary does retain a significant degree of influence. The judiciary is also represented on the JAC.
The Judicial System of Great Britain (COURTS) In Britain there are of three sources of law – Common Law, Equity Law and Statute Law. Statute Law includes both laws passed in Parliament and acts of executive organs. Common Law consists of a system of precedents, valid for subsequent similar cases. Equity Law is system of law which exercised by Lord Chancellor and his staff. Since Britain’s accession to the European Union, European Law has also become a source of the law in the United Kingdom. It is found in the Unions’ treaties and decisions of the Union Institutions. The structure of the court system in Britain is many-layered. The courts in Great Britain are divided into two large groups: criminal division and civil division.
Criminal courts are Magistrates’ Courts and Crown Courts. The majority of all criminal cases are dealt with in the Magistrates’ courts by magistrates, who are also called Justice of Peace. Magistrates’ courts normally consist of three JP’s (up to seven). They try the huge number of criminal cases which are brought for trivial crimes. All these are summary offences. JP’s are ordinary members of the community, who was appointed by Lord Chancellor on the recommendation of a Judicial Appointments Commission. JP’s have no legal qualifications. The clerk helps them on points of law. They receive no payment for their work. In some major cities, there are District Judges in magistrates’ courts. They are qualified lawyers, work full day and are paid salaries.
Crown Courts act as trial court for serious cases and as the court of appeal for Magistrates’ Courts. Only professional judges work in the Crown Courts. Crown Courts try indictable offences. If a case is tried on the merits, there is a judge and a jury in a court room. The judge presides over by trial, but decision on guilt or innocence is made by a jury of twelve citizens. The judges’ functions are, first, see that trial properly conducted; give guidance to the jury, and if jury finds the accused guilty, to decide upon the penalty and pronounce sentence. Appeals against the decisions of the Crown court may be taken to the Court of Appeal. The civil courts are county courts and High Court; also there are many special tribunals which settle many special disputes.
The High Court of Justice is above the county court. There are three divisions in the High Court – the Queen’s Bench Division, Chancery division and Family Division. The Queen’s Bench Division consists of about 80 High Court Judges. They try civil cases and exercises supervision over lower courts. It includes Commercial Court and Admiralty Court. The Chancery Division consists of about 20 High Court Judges. It deals with only civil cases as, bankruptcy, trusts and taxes. The Family Division consists of about 20 High Court Judges. It deals with matrimonial and family matters. All divisional courts act as courts of first instance and as appellate courts. The Court of Appeal hers most of important civil and criminal appeals from courts in England and Wales. There are two large divisions in Court of Appeal are Civil and Criminal Division
The Civil Division hears appeals in civil cases from High Court, county courts and more special courts. The Civil Division consists of 37 Lords or Lady Justices of Appeal and led by Master of the Rolls. The Criminal Division hears appeals in criminal cases from Crown courts. The Criminal Division led by the Lord Chief of Justice. Till Constitutional Reform Act 2005 the highest judicial body was the House of Lords. The Constitutional Reform Act established the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Supreme Court is the highest appellate court in the United Kingdom. The main reason for establishment of the court is to separate legislative and judicial powers. The Old Bailey criminal court in London opens hearings in the murder
Dealing with crime There are two main types of court for criminal cases: Magistrates' Courts (or 'courts of first instance'), which deal with about 95 per cent of criminal cases, and Crown Courts for more serious offences. All criminal cases above the level of Magistrates' Courts are held before a jury. Civil law covers matters related to family, property, contracts and torts (wrongful acts suffered by one person at the hands of another). These are usually dealt with in County Courts, but specialised work is concentrated in certain designated courts. The High Court deals with more complicated cases and is divided into three: the Family Division, which deals with family law, divorce and adoption; Chancery, which deals with corporate and personal insolvency, interpretation of trusts and wills; and the Queen's Bench, which deals with contract and tort cases, maritime and commercial law
The treatment of offenders Imprisonment is used significantly more in Britain than elsewhere in Europe. The debate over imprisonment has always had a political edge. The Conservative Party has always prided itself on being 'the party of law and order'. In practice this has meant it has encouraged greater use of custodial rather than non-custodial sentences. The belief in stiff punishment as deterrence, retribution and the protection of society, derives from the moral view that criminality stems primarily from envy, greed and malice. The weakness of this argument lies in the fact that barely one in 50 crimes committed leads to a conviction. Prison conditions became a cause of major concern during the different Conservative administrations. During the 1980s there were repeated disorders in prisons. Prisoners rioted over the serious level of overcrowding and the decaying and primitive conditions of many prisons. In 1991 it was finally decided to provide proper toilet facilities instead of the 'slopping out', or buckets, that had been in operation since Victorian times, and were finally acknowledged to be degrading. The installation of a toilet in each cell was completed in 1996. Nowdays the prison conditions are more comfortable
The police Each Chief Constable is responsible for all operational and administrative decisions. The police authority cannot give direct instructions on such matters, nor can the Home Secretary (except in the cases of London and Northern Ireland). In 1966 a judge ruled that a Chief Constable, like any police officer, cannot be told which particular laws to enforce or refrain from enforcing. Traditionally Chief Constables have disliked local attempts to control even more than those of central government. The result is that except in the case of police violation of the law, or a case of gross negligence, it is extremely difficult for elected representatives at the local level to exercise direct control. As the challenges of modern society became more complex, the response of the Conservative government was to give the police more manpower and more money
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