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Legal Professions in Great Britain

Freedom has to be restricted if it is to survive. This is done by the law which prohibits certain actions because they are against the interests of most citizens. But there is no point in having laws unless they can be enforced. Laws are enforced in two ways. First by the Police, whose duty it is to catch offenders. Secondly by the Law Courts which find out whether a person is innocent or guilty. If he is guilty, the courts then award punishment, either a fine or a term of imprisonment.

The court system is dependant upon the legal profession to make it work. In Britain the legal profession is divided into two branches, barristers and solicitors. The division has a number of significant impacts upon the judiciary system. The English judiciary system is organised on a very different plan. They have no ministry of Justice. Some of the functions of such a ministry are distributed among members of the Cabinet; to a certain extent the Home Secretary is their minister of criminal justice, and to less extent the Lord Chancellor is their minister of civil justice.

The traditional picture of the English lawyer is that the solicitor is the legal adviser of the public. The solicitor may conduct client's case in the lower courts. The barrister can be consulted only through the solicitor; he has the sole right of audience in the higher courts. There is approximately one solicitor to every 1300 of the population, with considerable regional and local variations. There is a heavy concentration in commercial centres. The ratio for barristers is about one per every 10,000. But a lot of work in English solicitors' offices is undertaken by managing clerks, now called "legal executives", who are the third type of lawyers. The judge is the presiding officer of the court. Judges are not themselves a separate profession: they are barristers who have been elevated to the bench, itself a name derived from the part of the Court where they sit. The judge decides the interpretation of the law. The great strength of the British legal system lies in the position of the judges. Once they are appointed it is practically impossible to dismiss them as long as they remain of "good behaviour".

The jury system is one of the most distinctive features of British justice. A jury consists of twelve people who are householders, selected at random by the officers of the court. Notice that they are not legal specialists, but simply ordinary men and women who have been ordered to attend. With a few exceptions, juries are seldom employed today in civil cases. In criminal cases involving more than three months' imprisonment, which are not tried by the magistrates' courts, the trial must be by a jury.

The professional judges, "High Court Judges", deal with the most serious crimes. They are paid salaries by the state. But in Britain, the vast majority of judges are unpaid, doing their work voluntarily, and they are called Magistrates or Justices of the Peace (JPs). They are usually well-known local citizens who are selected not because they have any legal training but because they have "sound common sense". They are appointed by the Lord Chancellor.

Magistrates are selected by special committees in every town and district. Nobody knows who is on the special committee in their area. The committee tries to draw Magistrates from different professions and social classes.


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