THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF THE UK
A court is an institution that the government sets up to settle disputes through a legal process. Courts decide what really happened and what should be done about it.
Prosecution in the United Kingdom is initiated and conducted by the police. Each town has a magistrates’ court commonly known as Police Court which hears the less serious cases. Such courts consist of two to seven magistrates known as the justices of the peace. They are often without legal training and knowledge of the law. In some cases they are advised by the Clerk of the Court, a trained lawyer. A magistrates’ court is in session twice a week.
If a person breaks the law he must be brought first before a magistrates’ court which has the power to fine the people up to 100 pounds and to send them to prison for up to six months. If a case is too serious for magistrates they hear the material of the case and then send the case to a higher court called the Crown Court where the judge and a jury hear the case.
Appeals against the sentences given in the Crown court are sent to the Court of Appeals. Appeals on cases which are of great public importance are dealt with by the House of Lords – the final court of appeals.
Certain cases may be referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg.
The legal system also includes juvenile courts (which deal with offenders under seventeen) and coroners’ courts (which investigate violent, sudden or unnatural deaths). There are also administrative tribunals which make quick, cheap and fair decisions with much less formality. Tribunals deal with professional standards, disputes between individuals, and disputes between individuals and government departments (for example, over taxation).
Human dignity constitutes the basis of human rights. Freedom, justice, peace and equality flow from these rights.
Human rights are contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Human rights do not have to be given, bought, earned or inherited.
Human rights are the same for all human beings regardless of race, sex, religion, ethnicity, political or other opinion, national or social origin. All people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Human rights cannot be taken away – no one has the right to deprive another person of them for any reason. People still have human rights even when the laws of their countries do not recognize them, or when they violate them.
All human rights can be put into three categories:
1. Civil and Political Rights. These are ‘liberty-orientated’ and include the rights to: life, liberty and security of the individual; freedom from torture and slavery; political participation; freedom of opinion, expression, thought, conscience and religion; freedom of association and assembly.
2. Economic and Social Rights. These are ‘security-orientated’ rights, for example the rights to: work, education, a reasonable standard of living, food, shelter and health care.
3. Environmental, Cultural and Developmental Rights. These include the right to live in an environment that is clean and protected from destruction, and rights to cultural, political and economic development.
When it is said that each person is endowed with human rights, it is meant that each person has responsibilities to respect the human rights of others. As a famous judge once said: “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”.