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Determining mode of trial : an analysis of decision making in magistrates' courts

By Steven Cammiss


The thesis examines mode of trial decisions in magistrates’ courts within the context of a theoretical framework that views courtroom interaction as multifaceted and complex. The history of the mode of trial decision has seen an extension of summary jurisdiction; for reasons of cost and efficiency successive reforms have aimed at reducing the number of cases that are committed to the Crown Court. It is thought that inappropriate cases are being committed to the Crown Court, yet the magistrates’ court is criticised for providing poor quality justice. This thesis therefore examines the dynamics of the mode of trial decision in order to understand how the process operates.\ud \ud The theoretical framework examines different influences upon social interactions; psychobiography, the courtroom setting, the dynamics of interactions and wider social structures that frame behaviour. This is conducted through an examination of the narrative (re)production practices of courtroom professionals.\ud \ud The thesis find that legal considerations dominate the mode of trial process with local legal cultures deeply influencing the decision. However, where discretion remains, sociological influences can be ascertained as impacting upon behaviour. For instance, the treatment of domestic violence cases show how institutional and professional concerns enter the mode of trial decision; prosecutors, utilising the ability to control information that comes before the court, minimise the impact of cases so as to persuade the magistrates to retain jurisdiction. Additionally, the legal narratives (re)produced in the courtroom highlight a number of considerations for the nature of law. Law, when taking defendant’s, witnesses’ and complainant’s stories, translates these into narratives that are appropriate for the legal process. As a result, the voices of the participants are lost in the courtroom narrative

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