Monday, November 24, 2008

Magistrate Boot Camp - Day 1 : From Geek to Beak

You can be almost totally ignorant of the law and still pass the interviews to be selected to be a Magistrate. It's your common sense and judgement that is deemed important at that stage.

However they don't let you into the courtroom for your first sitting unless you've got some basic knowledge of rules and procedures.

Which is why thirty-odd of us are spending the next three days in a hotel conference room with the senior Justice Clerks and a blizzard of flipcharts and powerpoints, getting acquainted with the finer points of sentencing and case management.

It has been very practical - some very testing scenarios that would make your straight hair curl, and your curly hair straight. In particular, one unpleasant (fictional) sexual assault case where we had to decide whether (a) they were likely to get more than 6 months in prison, hence it was a job for the Crown Court or (b) Magistrates Court was appropriate.

Even though it was a printed example and it involved a fictional victim and assailant,I had a very strong emotional reaction to it. Fortunately all the particulars of the case that made me sick to the stomach turned out to be valid reasons to crank up the tariff for the crime and, as it turned out, I would have been right to follow my gut and pass it over to a judge and jury.

It's good to know that there isn't always a disconnect between how bad a crime feels and how seriously it is taken by the courts.

We had split into groups to discuss that case in different corners of the room and it was strange to listen in as four groups of earnest middle-aged people had similar overlapping conversations, slightly out of synch, using sexual words in a legal context. The word "ejaculation" in particularly seemed to pass around the room from one group to another, like some obscene sea shanty.

One day down, two to go.

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