Become a Magistrate
What You Need to Know
- Magistrates, or Justices of the Peace (JPs), are volunteers who deal with around 95 per cent of criminal cases in England and Wales.
- The majority of magistrates sit in adult courts, but, you may also apply to sit in family courts.
- To become a magistrate, you must be between 18 and 70, have lived in your community for at least 12 months and be without a serious criminal record.
- As a magistrate, you will have to commit at least 26 half-days per year to sit in court, though employers are required by law to grant reasonable time off work for magistrates.
- Training will normally be for the equivalent of three days (18 hours) and may be delivered over a long weekend, in a series of short evening sessions over several weeks.
- You will also be assigned a mentor and be required to sit regular training sessions so you stay up-to-date with changes in the law.
- As a magistrate you won’t be paid – being a magistrate is voluntary job – but you can claim travel and subsistence expenses, as well as loss of earnings.
What Do Magistrates Do?
Magistrates, or Justices of the Peace (JPs), are volunteers who deal with around 95 per cent of criminal cases in England and Wales. Generally speaking, magistrates deal with less-serious criminal cases. These might include cases relating to minor thefts, public disorder, driving offences and even some minor assaults.
All magistrates in England and Wales sit in adult criminal courts. Typically, they sit in ‘benches’ of two or three, ideally with magistrates of varying ages and backgrounds presiding over cases.
Magistrates may also apply to sit in youth and family proceedings courts, though for this you will typically need to undergo specialist extra training and you may even be required to be a member of a community youth panel or other such group.
Who Can Become a Magistrate?
To apply to be a magistrate for your community, you must have lived in the area for at least 12 months. For an application form, get in touch with your local Advisory Committee. The details should be in your phone book, or you can visit a magistrates’ court and find the office of the Clerk to the Justices, who will give you the details. Alternatively, you can get the information by visiting the Secretary of Commissions Office website.
It is unlikely that you will be automatically disqualified unless you are a full-time member of HM forces, have been found guilty of a serious criminal offence or a number of minor offences, or if you are an undeclared bankrupt. You will also need special consideration if you work for the courts or a related organisation such as the police, probation service or prison service – or if you have a relationship with someone in such a job.
You don’t need to have any formal qualifications to become a magistrate, though you must have integrity and common sense, a good understanding of human behaviour, maturity and sound judgement as well as knowledge of your local community and the ability to listen to all sides of an argument in order to make fair decisions.
Magistrates must be aged between 18 and 70, though the Lord Chancellor will not usually appoint anyone aged 65 or over, and you will have to commit at least 26 half-days per year to sit in court (employers are required by law to grant reasonable time off work for magistrates).
If you are chosen to be a magistrate you will undergo compulsory training, usually outside working hours, which includes talks, discussions, practical exercises, observing in court, use of CCTV and visits to prisons.
Initial training will be given locally by Justices' Clerk (legal advisor) or a member of his or her team. You will be in a group with other new magistrates recruited at the same time as you.
Training will normally be for the equivalent of three days (18 hours) and may be delivered over a long weekend, in a series of short evening sessions over several weeks, over three separate week days, or as a residential course.
You will be required to sit for a minimum of 26 half-days every year, but you could be expected to sit for up to 35 – and be prepared to sit for full days if proceedings require it. You will normally sit with two other magistrates and a clerk of the court, who is there to advise you on points of law. Additionally, you will be given a mentor, who will help with your training and help chart your progress in a Personal Development Log.
Terms of Appointment
As a magistrate you won’t be paid – being a magistrate is voluntary – but you can claim travel and subsistence expenses, as well as loss of earnings if your employer will not allow you paid time off – though most firms will.
As well as being required to sit for up to 35 days a year, you will also be required to undertake regular training sessions. These will ensure that you are aware of any major changes in legislation. Again, you will not be paid for this training, but costs will be covered.
Once appointed, you will also be required to sit an appraisal a year after beginning your duties.
The statutory retirement age for magistrates is 70. After this, you will no longer be allowed to sit on a magistrates’ bench. You will, however, be able to have your named placed on a Supplemental List. This means that, if your services are required by a local court, you will be asked to carry out some minor administrative duties, including signing official documents.
Note that all magistrates have the right to resign their post at any time.
- Read more about becoming and serving as a magistrate at the website of the Magistrates Association.
- Want to brush up on your knowledge of the law? Search for thousands of home learning courses with the help of UK Net Guides
- Maybe you’re about to get some first hand experience of the courtroom? If you’ve been called up, be sure to read are guide to jury service.
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