The structure and functions of the English magistrates' court : a study in historical sociology
This thesis starts with a critique of existing sociological and criminological studies. The major argument here is that, although interactionist studies are an improvement upon their positivist counterparts, they suffer from the inherent weaknesses contained in their astructural bias. Thus, although observational studies have been able to describe the effects of the process of interaction within the courtroom, they have been unable to explain why magistrates' justice is characterised by a relative lack of due process. In the main body of the thesis, we offer a structural analysis of the functions of magistrates' courts through an examination of the historical development of the magistracy culminating in its transformation in the middle of the nineteenth century. We show that the magistracy was created in its modern form as a lower court of summary justice specifically to act as an efficient method of punishing petty offenders with a conscious disregard for rights of due process. This did not simply reflect the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie but rather it was a product of the class struggle resulting from the particular formation of British capitalism, in which the gentry retained a powerful position. The central argument is that the particular form of justice that is administered in the lower courts of England and Wales reflects the compromise that was reached between these two sections of the ruling class in the period in which the modern magistracy was forged.