evening was expected on Tuesday and it did not disappoint.
Firstly, the scheduled speaker, Jeanne Kenyon gave word that she
could not make it but 3 of her colleagues did. The 3 in
question, Mike Emery, Andrea Kenyon and David Cole, are
magistrates from HM Courts Service (HMCS) and are based at
Chorley Magistrates Court.
Mike led the
talk but made it clear that he welcomed questions from members
from the start and that his 2 colleagues would assist him. He
started by explaining that magistrates had been around since the
reign of Edward III in the mid 14th century. Then as now they
were unpaid but generally accepted they were people of influence
within the community. In the Middle Ages they were more than
likely to be knights. Also, then as now, a problem to be dealt
with could be drunks on a Saturday night and a magistrate would
bind someone over to keep the peace.
David Cole, Mike Emery & Andrea Kenyon.
responsibilities magistrates would have had then but not now
would be for turnpikes, bridges and felons in prison before
facing the Quarter Assize. Courts were held in many places.
Around Chorley there is evidence of courts being held where the
Swan with 2 Necks pub is, St Laurence’s Church, the site of the
present Central Library, Union Street and the Old Royal Oak pub.
There were, of course, stocks where the police station is on
what was the town green.
Mike then went to explain that in modern Britain magistrates
deal with about 95% of all criminal cases. Magistrates are
chosen from people aged 18 to 70 and there are around 60
magistrates in Chorley. The youngest is in their early twenties.
There is always a bench of 3 magistrates that sit in court and
it is the chair that sits in the centre. This was as it was on
the night with Mike sat in the middle and Andrea and David on
either side of him. The term bench comes from when the only
person who sat in court was the magistrate. They are expected to
attend a minimum of 26 sittings a year.
Although unpaid, until the 1890’s magistrates had to own an
amount of land. It was customary too that the mayor of a town or
city was an honorary magistrate. It was, also, a totally male
domain until there was a Mayoress of Stalybridge appointed on
the 31 December 1919. It is now a 50/50 split of males/females
on the bench.
Magistrates require no legal training but in court there is a
Legal Assistant that sits in front of them. They would advise on
points of law and are paid for these duties. Also paid is the
Court Usher, who Mike described of having the appearance of a
teacher from bygone days.
Those present on the evening took every opportunity to put their
questions to Mike, Andrea and David, which covered many aspects
of magistrates, what they do, stories of interesting cases and
how to apply to become one. It was a different evening from the
norm, not least because of its debate format but no less