Summary Justice: Are Magistrates Up to It? is concerned with the criminal justice system and with the part of magistrates within it. It opens with a description of a magistrates’ court in session, bringing out what an open-minded observer might find perplexing – which is quite a lot.
The book draws largely on Farrington’s own experience as a Justice of the Peace and quotes liberally from the record he made at the time. This brings out vividly what magistrates do and highlights the problems, especially with the sentencing of offenders and with the grant or withholding of bail.
Farrington discusses inefficiencies within the system. He shows how some of these are only apparent, and follow from the need to treat everyone fairly, while others badly need correction.
Summary Justice explains how there came to be two kinds of magistrate: lay magistrates (Justices of the Peace), unpaid, sitting in benches of three, with a clerk to advise them; also stipendiary magistrates, now called district judges, legally qualified and sitting solo. He considers how well magistrates’ courts do their job and – especially – how competent lay magistrates are. He finds that the system is at least passable but in need of improvement and concludes by weighing up the radical alternative of merging the two kinds.
This book is directed to all concerned with the criminal justice system: policy-makers, magistrates, legal practitioners, journalists, law students, and members of the public considering applying for appointment as lay magistrates.