Monday, 16 May 2011

On the bench - for 650 years

It's 650 years since the role of the magistrate was created which has become the cornerstone of the British justice system. Today, justices of the peace still handle 95 per cent of criminal cases, and civil ones.
They were originally, in 1361, knights and landowners but as property and wealth ceased to be criteria, JPs acquired their image as hat-wearing, middle-aged, middle-class, largely female women who were paid for their time, which they aren't  Though the balance has gradually shifted to include a wider segment of society,  it's still more difficult to get more men on the bench because of their work commitments. 
Sentencing may have changed from being thrown into the duck pond or confined in the stocks, to the imposition of fines and imprisonment but the system is one of the few to have survived the centuries and remain an essential and effective method of imposing penalties on miscreants. 
In my book, The A-Z of Punishment and Torture, you can read more about this fascinating subject, including and the varied and imaginative, cruel and sometimes amusing ways people have dealt with those who step out of line.  It's available as a hard back and an e-book.

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