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Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Magistracy and the role of a magistrate

If you care about justice and would like to gain valuable skills while serving your community, becoming a magistrate could be the role for you.

Magistrates or JPs

you need to be able to commit at least 26 half-days per year to sit in court

Magistrates or Justices of the Peace (JPs) are volunteers from all walks of life who deal with around 95 per cent of criminal cases in England and Wales, including many of the crimes that most affect the public, such as anti-social behaviour.

You need to be able 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). Magistrates are not paid for their services. However, many employers allow time off with pay for magistrates. If you do suffer loss of earnings you may claim a loss allowance at a set rate. You can also claim allowances for travel and subsistence.

Magistrates can be appointed from the age of 18 and they must retire at 70. However, the Lord Chancellor will not generally appoint anyone aged 65 or over. Selection is based entirely on merit and applications are welcome from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. You don't need legal or academic qualifications to be a magistrate and full training is provided.

Your role as a magistrate

As a magistrate, you will sit in your local magistrates' court dealing with a wide range of less serious criminal cases and civil matters. Some of your duties will include:

  • determining whether a defendant is guilty or not and passing the appropriate sentence
  • deciding on requests for remand in custody
  • deciding on applications for bail
  • committing more serious cases to the Crown Court

With experience and further training you could also go on to deal with cases in the family and youth courts.

Magistrates sit on a 'bench' of three (an experienced chairman with two other magistrates) and are accompanied in court by a trained legal advisor to give guidance on the law and sentencing options.

Your training

You will undertake a training programme to help you develop all the knowledge and skills you will need to serve as a magistrate. This is given locally by your 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 be given using a variety of methods, which may include pre-course reading, small-group work, use of case studies, computer-based training and CCTV.

The initial induction and core 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.

It is recognised that magistrates are volunteers and that their time is valuable, so every effort is made to provide all training at times and places convenient to trainees.

The Ministry of Justice booklet, 'Serving as a Magistrate', has more information about the Magistracy and the role of magistrates.

Additional links

Employer information

Find out your obligations as an employer on allowing time off for magistrate duties

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