What is the Role of a Magistrate in Court?
Magistrates are volunteers within the local community. They listen to the evidence given in certain types of court cases.
The main responsibility of a magistrate is deciding whether people charged with offences are guilty or not guilty.
So, a magistrate’s role is hearing cases and imposing penalties to offenders in criminal courts, family courts (or both).
As a rule, three magistrates will have the capacity to oversee each court case. One of them will be a magistrate trained to act as the chairperson.
There will also be a legal adviser inside the courtroom. Their main tasks revolve around giving advice on the law and ensuring magistrates follow the legal procedures of United Kingdom.
Cases in the Criminal Court
Even though there are different types of criminal courts these types of cases start off in a magistrates’ court. But, magistrates will pass ‘indictable offences’ over to the Crown Court (e.g. cases of murder, rape, or robbery).
In criminal cases, an important role of magistrates is deciding whether a guilty defendant should be:
- Remanded in custody (e.g. in a court cell or at a local police station).
- Released with strict conditions attached (e.g. staying away from named people or places).
A list of crimes that magistrates deal with in court include:
- Minor assaults
- Motoring offences (e.g. parking fines)
- The handling of stolen goods
- TV licence payment evasion
Typical punishments imposed by someone who is volunteering as a magistrate include:
- Unpaid work in the community (e.g. community sentences)
- Prison sentences up to six (6) months (up to one year for multiple crimes)
Cases in the Family Court
If you become a magistrate you may also be hearing cases at a family court. So, you would be dealing with cases that involve children, which can include:
- Arranging for a child to be put up for adoption or taken into care.
- Issuing court orders to prevent domestic abuse.
- Enforcing child maintenance orders (or helping separated parents make arrangements for their children).
Note: Magistrates who act in family cases can seek further advice from a guardian of the child or from a family court adviser.
Who Can Apply to be a Magistrate
Some individuals will not be able to serve as a magistrate. Those who can, and decide to volunteer as a magistrate, will need to give up some of their spare time.
There are no formal qualifications and no legal training is required (you get full training for the role). In fact, a legal adviser would be present in the court to help with questions about the law.
There is a legal age limit to become a magistrate. You must be over eighteen (18) and below 65. As a rule, magistrates will serve for a minimum of five (5) years and must retire at the age of seventy (70).
Health and Personal Qualities
You should be in good general health and must be able to hear clearly (with or without a hearing aid). The role means sitting and concentrating for long periods of time.
To become a magistrate you will need to show that you have the appropriate personal qualities, such as:
- Being aware of current and social issues.
- Maturity and an understanding of people showing a sense of fairness.
- Reliability and a commitment for serving the local community.
- Thinking logically and weighing up arguments.
Note: You will also need to understand official documents, communicate effectively, follow evidence, and reach a fair decision.
When You Cannot Be a Magistrate
As a general rule, your application would not be successful if there is evidence that you were:
- Banned from driving within the previous five (5) to ten (10) years
- Declared bankrupt
- Found guilty of a serious crime or guilty of several minor offences
Note: Working in a certain job where there could be a conflict of interest would mean you cannot become a magistrate (e.g. a police officer).
Taking Time Off for Magistrate Duties
The scheduling means being in court for at least thirteen (13) days per year (or 26 half-days). Thus, you may need to discuss balancing work and magistrate duties with your employer.
You would get advance notice of your timetable. So, you can provide an employer with sufficient notice of the dates you need to be in court.
Note: Employers must allow employees reasonable time off work to serve as a magistrate – by law. Read more about taking time off work to perform public duties.
Magistrates Pay and Allowances
In fact, being a magistrate is a volunteering role of the judiciary and they do not get paid. Nonetheless, most employers will allow their staff to take paid time off for this role.
Losing out on pay means you would be able to claim an allowance at a set rate. Further allowances for magistrates are available to cover travel expenses and subsistence.
Training to Become a Magistrate
You will receive adequate training to be a magistrate in United Kingdom. The initial training will add up to around 21 hours (or 3 and a half days) and several meetings. In most cases, training takes place over:
- A long weekend or weekdays.
- Short evening sessions spread out over several weeks.
Applying to Become a Magistrate
Visiting a Local Court
It is recommended that you visit one of the nearby courts a few times to get a feel for the role. You can use the court finder to find the nearest one in your area.
Check the best time to visit and which courtrooms to go and watch the procedures. They will ask about your visits if you get invited to attend an interview as part of the application.
Note: You will not be able to visit family cases before applying because family hearings are private.
Magistrates Recruitment Information
You must apply to the nearest advisory committee. Check the magistrate advisory committee recruitment information for further details of vacancies.
Contact the advisory committee if you have any recruitment queries or questions about on how to become a magistrate. You can also reach out to the Magistrates HR Team.
Magistrates HR Team
Mail: [email protected]
Magistrates Application Form
Download the magistrate application form and relevant guidance notes. You can then email or post the completed form to the advisory committee dealing with your area.