Part 1: Roles and Relationships in the Magistrates' Court
The office of District Judge (magistrates' courts) is created by section
78 of the Access to Justice Act 1999 which provides for the unification
and renaming of the stipendiary bench. Prior to the implementation of this
Act professional judges in magistrates' courts were called stipendiary
magistrates, and for historical reasons the bench was divided between
metropolitan stipendiary magistrates who had jurisdiction in the inner
London courts, and provincial stipendiary magistrates who were appointed
for individual areas or counties outside inner London. In recent years the
distinction between the two bodies was seen to be artificial, not least
because stipendiaries who sat in outer London were provincial whereas
those in geographically adjoining courts were metropolitan. In addition
such geographical distinctions seemed out of place when professional
judges in other jurisdictions (District Judges, for example) were not
restricted to particular areas for their work.
The government has
recognised, in the Access to Justice Act 1999, the identity of interest of
all professional magistrates by unifying them into one body and has
acknowledged the distinction between professional judges and lay
magistrates by providing the title District Judge (magistrates' courts).
The provisions of the 1999 Act are the latest of a large number of changes
to the ancient office of 'Justice' which has its origins in a medieval
system of courts and legal administration. A brief history of the bench
may be summarised as follows.
Until the middle of the eighteenth century summary justice was entirely in
the hands of local unpaid citizens who were Justices of the Peace deriving
their authority from ancient powers dating back to the Justices of the
Peace Act 1361. This system generally worked well in country areas but
after the great expansion of the cities in the early...