The Innocent and the Guilty
Imagine, if you can, that you have been arrested for something like shoplifting, or for dangerous driving, or for getting drunk and causing “a disturbance of the peace”. You are in a Magistrates Court now.
You, “the accused”, are in a kind of large, open box. The sides come up almost to your chin. It is on a raised platform almost in the centre of the court and is called “the dock”. You are “in the dock”. There are three Magistrates “on the bench” in front of you. At least one of them is, woman. They are also on a raised platform, at desks, side by side. In front of and below them there is another man. He is the “Clerk of the Court” and he, unlike them, is framed in the law and is paid for his work. During your case he will handle the administrative details and perhaps give advice to the Magistrates on legal points.
The case begins. The policeman who arrested you gives evidence. He reads details from a small black notebook that he always carries. He tells the court when and why he arrested you, what you said, what he said, and so on. Your solicitor questions, or “cross-examines”. One of the Magistrates speaking for all three, also asks questions.’ Other witnesses appear. Perhaps you yourself say nothing at all. You do not have to speak in your defence. “Everyone is innocent until proven guilty”. In other words, you do not have to prove that you are innocent. The police have to prove you are guilty.
At the end the Magistrates probably do not even go out of the court. They discuss your case in low voices in front of you. You try to hear, but cannot. Then the Clerk of the Court tells you to stand. The Magistrate who has done the talking for the others tells you whether they have found you innocent or guilty. He can sentence you to no more than six months in gaol for one offence, to a maximum of one year for two or more offences or to a fine of 400 Моге serious cases are heard’in the Crown Court, Avhere the Judge is always a legal expert and is also paid for his work. In the Crown Court you may, if you choose, be given a “trial by jury”. Twelve ordinary people like yourself judge you. But the Judge himself always decides on the sentence.
Reporters for local newspapers often go to Magistrates’ Courts; the next day articles appear in the paper and full names, ages, addresses and details of the case are given. Find such an article if you can from an English local newspaper. It will give you an idea of the kind of cases that can be tried in such a court.