Appeal Issues- 6.19

I want to address the issue of appeals. Some of my feelings on it might result from inexperience or ignorance, so I want to give that disclaimer. But many of the cases I have been working on have been appeal issues and it has developed a sense of confusion and frustration towards appeals.

Here is the process as I understand it. Because there are no jury trials, everything here is tied before a magistrate (judge) and along with two assistants who have say in the decision, they decide the case. The standard here is reasonable doubt for criminal matters at least, I am not sure about civil matters. When a matter is brought on appeal, the attorney writes basically a brief summarizing why they felt that the judgment was erroneous. The standard of review is that the magistrate must decide whether or not a different court could have reached a different result. If they find that it could have, the appeal is granted and a different court hears the appeal.

My major issues with this system are this. (1) The magistrates here are treated like gods by officers of the court. They are referred to as “your worship” in magistrate court and as “m’lady” or “m’lord” in high court. While I recognize that we also give great reverence to our judges in the US, I have seen some attorneys crumble in front of judges as though they are children being scolded by their parents. This is only natural when the magistrates are making all of the judicial decisions in the country and I understand it. However, as I am sure is true in the US as well, it takes a certain amount of political saavy and experience for someone to get to that stature and it seems to me that they would not want to basically admit that they were wrong in their previous decision. (2) Appeals are not based on procedural errors, they are based on facts leaving open possibilities of error. While the US has a JNOV, and a motion for a new trial which give a similar opportunity, having someone review facts they have already reviewed and ruled on seems problematic to me. (3) I guess the biggest question that I have is this: if a magistrate finds that a different court could have come to a different result, isn’t that reasonable doubt? If so, shouldn’t the person have been acquitted in the first place?

Clearly this works for the country because they have done it this way for a long time. I have made a few attempts to get the process clarified and explained, but it is one of those things that is just part of your job so you don’t question it. This will be something I pursue for the rest of the summer in an attempt to understand.

One of the exchanges I have been having a lot lately with attorneys around the office is the discussion of jury trials versus bench trials. As I have said before, they don’t have juries here. A candidate attorney was asking me if it was like it was on TV. This led to an extensive conversation about the added psychological elements of having a jury to address. I was explaining how my friend Pavin moved a ring from his right hand to his left during a mock trial so as to make it look like he was married. I was informed that the magistrates have to adhere strictly to the law and cannot be influenced by emotion. I cannot decide which system is better. I am inclined to say that in terms of justice being administrated more fairly, the magistrate system works. But there is just something about a jury of one’s peers that really appeals to me. Maybe just because it is the system that is ingrained in me, but I like it.

This summer has resulted in a lot of questions, which I guess is why I’m here. I have made it one of my goals to figure out this appeal thing.

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