Legal Professions in Great Britain

Who is who in the law? If you are prosecuted for a crime in Britain, you may meet the following people during your process through the courts: Magistrates. Magistrates are unpaid judges usually chosen from well-respected people in the local community. They are guided on points of law by an official, the clerk. There are magistrates’ courts in most towns.

Solicitors. After the accused person has been arrested, the first person he or she needs to see is a solicitor. Solicitors are qualified lawyers who advise the accused and help prepare the defence case. The solicitor may represent the accused in court. A person who is too poor to afford a solicitor will usually get Legal Aid - financial help from the state.

Barristers. In more serious cases it is usual for the solicitor to hire a barrister to defend the accused. The barrister is trained in the law and in the skills required to argue a case in court. The barrister for the defence will be confronted by his or her opposite number, the prosecuting barrister who represents the state.

Jurors. A jury consists of twelve men and women from the local community. They sit in the Crown Court with a judge and listen to witnesses for the defence and prosecution before deciding whether the accused is guilty or innocent. In Britain the person is innocent unless found guilty: the prosecution has the burden of establishing guilt.

Judges. Judges are trained lawyers, nearly always ex-barristers who sit in the Crown Court and appeal courts. The judge rules on points of law and makes sure that the trial is conducted properly. He or she does not decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused - that is the jury’s job. However if the jury find the accused guilty, then the judge will pass


Coroners. Coroners have medical or legal training (or both) and inquire into violent or unnatural deaths.

Clerks of the court. Clerks look after administrative and legal matters in the courtroom.

Sentencing. The most common sentences are fines, prison and probation. Probation is used often with more minor offences. A person on probation must report to a local police station at regular intervals, which restricts his or her movement. A sentence of community service means that the convicted person has to spend several hours a week doing useful work in his locality.

A few more facts. Children under 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence.

Offenders between 10 and 17 are tried by special juvenile courts. The death penalty technically still exists in Britain for some rare offences, such as treason, but is no longer used. The punishment for murder is a life sentence. This can be much less than a lifetime in prison, depending on factors such as good behaviour. The most common punishment for crimes - 80 per cent of the total - is a fine.