Which court should I apply to?
While the role of the magistrate is always about hearing a range of cases and using sound judgement to make the right decisions, magistrates work in two distinct environments – the criminal court and the family court. If you’d like to become a magistrate, you’ll need to choose which type of court you want to work in. In either environment, you’ll have a wide range of opportunities to make a meaningful difference to individuals, and to wider society.
What’s it like working as a criminal court magistrate?
Almost all criminal court cases start in a magistrates’ court, and around 95% of them are completed there. As a magistrate in the criminal court, you’ll help to decide upon the next course of action. Cases can include domestic abuse, drug offences, motoring offences, theft, assaults, criminal damage and public order offences.
What will I do?
You will listen to and consider all the evidence provided by the court with the rest of your bench. If a defendant has pleaded or been found guilty, you can impose fines, community penalties (including unpaid work or addiction rehabilitation) and prison sentences. You’ll pass more serious offences on to the Crown Court, if a defendant has pleaded or been found guilty for sentencing, or for a full trial with a judge and jury.
It may sound daunting, but it’s important to remember that you won’t be making these decisions alone. Plus, you’ll have expert training and on-going support to help you, every step of the way.
Before applying to become a magistrate in the criminal court, you’ll need to visit and a magistrates’ court at least twice to observe the proceedings. You can find magistrate courts in your area here.
We’d recommend contacting the court in advance so you can find out more about when to attend.
- This short film on the work of magistrates in England and Wales will tell you more about the work magistrates do in courts and the types of cases they deal with.
- This short film on how offenders are sentenced in England and Wales will give you an insight into the types of sentences magistrates can give out.
- This short film where Magistrate Khadija talks about her role as a magistrate – YouTube.
What’s it like working as a family court magistrate?
As a magistrate in the family court, you could be making decisions that affect vulnerable children, supporting separated parents in making arrangements for their children, enforcing child maintenance orders and helping prevent domestic abuse. It’s an important role in which you can have a significant impact on a child’s life and welfare, and a family’s future.
It’s a role that will give you insights into a range of child welfare issues and enable you to make a tangible difference to the community as a whole. It can mean dealing with some difficult emotional situations, but you’ll have support and dedicated training to help you develop the skills you’ll need to handle them effectively.
The family court is a ‘closed court’, which means they’re not open to the public, so you can’t visit and observe a court. But you will need to take a look at publicly available information about the family court – this is a good place to start:
Family Court magistrates talk about the role
Advicenow’s guide to going to the family court
Magistrates in the Family Court roleplay video: A Private Law Case
Magistrates in the Family Court roleplay video: A Public Law Case