Top things to know about magistrates
- Decide cases in criminal and family courts
- Carry out duties alongside a job or studies
- Open to people from all walks of life
- No legal background required
- Gain valuable skills and experience
- Volunteer for a minimum of 13 days a year plus time for training
Make a difference aged 18 to 65
Magistrates are volunteer members of the judiciary, ordinary people who give up 13 days a year to support the justice system. They make up 85% of the judiciary and deal with over 90% of all criminal cases.
Magistrates are accompanied by a legal adviser in the court to give advice on the law and make sure magistrates follow the right guidelines and procedures.
Every criminal case starts with magistrates. Serious cases are referred to Crown Courts, but in other cases you will decide the course of action.
You can impose fines, community penalties (which could include unpaid work and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes) and prison sentences of up to six months. In exceptional circumstances this can extend to up to 12 months.
Typical cases include domestic abuse, drug offences, motoring offences, theft, assaults, criminal damage and public order offences.
In the family court, you may have to make important decisions for the future and protection of a child who needs to be taken into care or put up for adoption.
You may also help separated parents make arrangements for their children, enforce child maintenance orders and help prevent domestic abuse.
You will receive training to develop the necessary skills and are always supported in court by a trained legal advisor.
- be between 18 and 65 years old
- have sound judgement and good character
- volunteer for a minimum of 13 days a year, for at least 5 years
Magistrates need many important personal qualities to help them in the role. You will need to demonstrate to the recruitment committee in your area that you can:
- understand and appreciate different perspectives
- make fair, impartial and transparent deliberations
- communicate with sensitivity and respect
- show self-awareness and be open to learning
- work and engage with people professionally
You will need to be comfortable in a digital environment. For example, iPads are used in most courts to access information such as sentencing guidelines.
You may have to travel up to 2 hours to reach court locations in the area where you are a magistrate.
It is unlikely you will be appointed as a magistrate if you have been:
- found guilty of a serious crime
- found guilty of a number of minor offences
- banned from driving in the past 5 to 10 years
- declared bankrupt
If you work in the following occupations, you cannot become a magistrate:
- Community Safety Partnership members
- Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) employees
- Independent Custody Visitors and lay visitors
- National Crime Agency (NCA) employees
- Police Officer, Police Community Support Officer, Police Special Constable
- Police and Crime Commissioner, and civilian employees of the Police
- Prison Officer, Probation Officer, Probation Prosecutors and certain employees of HM
- Prison & Probation Service
- Restorative Justice Panels
- Store Detective
- Traffic Officer (Highways Agency) and Traffic Wardens
- Youth Offender Panels and employees of Youth Justice Boards
Further roles and opportunities
Once magistrates have gained experience there are a number of further roles and opportunities that can be undertaken alongside being a magistrate. These include being a mentor, a leadership magistrate or Bench Chair. Further information on these can be found once you are appointed.
1. Check if the role is right for you
Find your local Magistrates Court and sit in the public gallery. You will get an idea of what’s involved and whether it’s a role for you. You will need to go to 2 hearings in a criminal court before you apply to be a criminal court magistrate. Family courts are not open to the public in the same way.
2. Talk to your employer and people around you
Find out if you can spare at least 13 days to volunteer as a magistrate. You can claim a small allowance for things like travel and food. If you are in employment, you are legally entitled to time off from work. Many employers offer paid leave for the contribution you are making to society and the skills you learn. If you are self-employed, you can claim loss of earnings.
3. Find vacancies in your area
Magistrates are recruited by local advisory committees in 23 areas in England and Wales. Each local area opens recruitment at certain times of the year. Check the list of advisory committees in your area, and where you need to apply.
4. Submit your application and references
Read about what you need to apply and download the application form. You will need to provide 3 references. If you are in employment, one of the references must be from your employer.
Once applications and references are checked by the local advisory committee, you will be invited to 2 interviews if successful. Some advisory committees run both interviews on the same day.
A magistrate is a voluntary role but a public appointment to the judiciary. Your role will be approved by a Senior Presiding Judge on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice.
You will be expected to dedicate a minimum of 13 days a year, plus time for training and meetings, for a minimum term of 5 years.
If you move out of the area, it is possible to transfer between different magistrate’s regions.
It’s about your qualities not a legal background
You don’t need legal qualifications to be a magistrate. Personal qualities are more important. You will be asked to listen to cases and make clear judgement on what happens next.Read about a magistrate’s day
Give up your time and give back to society
You will need to volunteer for a minimum of 13 days a year plus time for training and meetings. In return you will receive specialist training, learn skills to add to your CV and help make your area a better place.See the benefits of being a magistrate
Receive specialist training
As a new magistrate you will receive training in your local area and through the Judicial College. Training is via face to face sessions and online learning. You will receive a:
- half day training session, usually on the day you are sworn in
- 3.5 day introductory structured training programme
- mentor to help you learn and develop
After your first year there is no set amount of training. Refresher training continues throughout your service and depends on whether you are sitting in criminal or family courts.
All training is free. You will receive expenses for the days you attend.
What inspires people to be a magistrate?
Read the video transcript
I wanted to give something back to the community.
I saw an advert for becoming a magistrate and I really wanted to go out and do something.
I went to my local Magistrates Court when I was seventeen, I was thinking of studying law at the time. In the end I didn’t study law but I’d become aware of the role so I studied something else, and I thought I could apply to be a magistrate and have a career in something completely different, which is what I’m doing now.
Just to play a small part in our judicial system, to try and make our community a better place to be and help people make better decisions.
Actually I was a witness. And I was absolutely fascinated. Never been in a court before. I was fascinated. How does this work, and what are they doing?
Really giving back to society and being an active member of society as well and playing my part not just within the role within the judiciary but the community locally.
Magistrates come from all walks of life
Magistrates are people of different ages, backgrounds and education. People just like you.