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Courts Act 2003

The commission of the peace and local justice areas

26.England and Wales are currently divided into commission areas and petty sessions areas (under sections 1-5 of JPA 1997). The commission area is the unit on which the appointment of lay magistrates and the jurisdiction of the magistrates’ courts to hear summary cases is based. Lay magistrates are appointed to a particular commission area, on the basis of the place where they reside; and most summary offences must be tried in the commission area where the alleged offence took place. Commission areas are divided into one or more petty sessions areas. Petty sessions areas are the areas to which lay magistrates are assigned by the Lord Chancellor (although this currently happens outside the statute). These are the “benches”, the basic unit of local magistrates’ court organisation.

27.This Act abolishes commission areas and petty sessions areas and replaces them with local justice areas. Lay magistrates will be appointed for England and Wales. This, coupled with changes in Part 3 of the Act, will have the effect of giving lay magistrates a national jurisdiction. The Lord Chancellor will, however, be placed under a statutory duty to assign lay magistrates to a local justice area. This will preserve the bench system in statute. By virtue of paragraph 3 of Schedule 9, when the Act comes into effect, the local justice areas will be the same as petty sessions areas were immediately previously. Subsequently, the pattern of areas may be varied by order, following suitable consultation.

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