CROWDS flocked to Dorchester’s Old Crown Court to celebrate 650 years of the lay magistrate’s role in the justice system.

Members of the public were able to join Dorset magistrates in marking the milestone by witnessing them dealing with cases as heard hundreds of years ago at the courts in High West Street.

Cases were re-enacted in line with original legislation and carried out in ‘18th-century style’ at the Dorset Magistrates’ Association-organised event.

Afterwards, some cases were repeated based on today’s laws to highlight the difference between the justice system in the 18th century and today.

In one case regarding the theft of wood, the accused in 1799 was flogged and publicly humiliated but when he stood before magistrates in 2011 he received a £275 fine.

There was also a chance for the public to visit the cells at the courts and look at old style police and law enforcement uniforms and equipment.

The courtroom’s public gallery was full of spectators and the organisers said they were delighted with the turn out.

Chairman of the Dorset Magistrates’ Association John Adams said: “I am delighted and overwhelmed with how many people came along. What we wanted was for people to show an interest and they showed it by coming and sitting in.

“Hopefully it showed the 200 years of difference.”

His Honour Judge Harvey Clark said: “It was a wonderful opportunity for the magistrates to show to the public the work they do.

“It gave me great pleasure to be there for such a very special occasion.

“I think everybody should be interested in the way the magistrates work and it was very pleasing to see so many people present.”

Dorchester Mayor Les Phillips added: “The magistrates do a wonderful job to keep our streets and our people safe.

“It was good to see so many people taking an interest.”

Some spectators also enquired about becoming a magistrate at the event. Magistrate Richard Ball, who took part in the case re-enactments, said: “We have had numerous people asking us about how to become a magistrate which is positive to see.

“It was a wonderful occasion and a superb way of celebrating the 650 celebrations.”

Representatives from other criminal justice agencies including Dorset Police and Her Majesty’s Court Service issued crime prevention advice.