The role and influence of District Judges in the magistrates' courts
The judicial responsibility for dealing with over one million defendants in the magistrates' courts each year is currently shared between over 30,000 volunteer lay magistrates, usually sitting in panels of two or three, and 281 legally qualified, state paid, District Judges (Magistrates' Courts) and Deputy District Judges (Magistrates' Courts), who sit alone.;District Judges (or stipendiary magistrates as they were previously entitled) were traditionally considered an anomalous feature of the magistrates' courts system. However, the last 10 years has seen the greatest expansion in their numbers and the consolidation of their role, status and organisation. Two main factors have contributed to these developments: the pressure for efficiency that has been brought to bear on the criminal justice process over the last twenty years, most recently embodied in the ethos of New Public Management and the marked shift towards professionalisation of the magistrates' courts. The combination of these factors, and the resultant growth in the numbers and role of District Judges, has led to the resurgence of familiar debates surrounding the fundamental values and functions of the magistrates' courts.;The objectives of this study were to assess the role of District Judges in terms of the assumptions made in respect of the skills and benefits they bring to the magistrates' courts and to determine the extent of their influence upon the conduct of court business. It is argued that District Judges exert the greatest influence in the micro arena of the courtroom. The combination of their status as legal professional and decision-maker transformed the dynamics of working relationships. However, they had little direct impact upon the general administration or non-judicial work of the court. It was found that their assumed quality in terms of speed was reflected in the largely pragmatic judicial role they undertook in the courts. However, it was also apparent that District Judges tended to be allocated a greater proportion of the 'more serious' types of cases in defence to their professional status. Finally, it is argued that, as 'expert' decision-makers within a system historically based on 'amateur community justice' the increased presence of District Judges has both led to, and been emblematic of, a subtle shift in the underlying values of the magistrates' courts.