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Balancing justice: Life as a family and criminal court magistrate

Picture of magistrate, Hayley, with quote "I love that I’m both a criminal and family court magistrate; it provides so much variety." and text: Help make the decisions that shape your community, while you gain new skills.

Did you know that magistrates can sit in the either a family or criminal court? There is also the option to sit across both courts, like Hayley, who has been a magistrate for 18 years. Read on to learn about Hayley's experience.

What drew you to the magistrate role?

I was looking for a challenge and to give something back to my community. My initial thought was that magistrates were old people, and I was far too young at the age of 30. 

But magistrates really do come from many different professions and are all ages; some work and others are retired.  There is a broad age range of magistrates, as many companies provide staff with the opportunity to do voluntary work. In fact, employers are legally obliged to allow time off work for employees to volunteer in a public role such as being a magistrate. 

What are the key similarities you find in both criminal and family court magistrate roles?

I love the fact that I am both a criminal and family magistrate; it provides so much variety. As a criminal magistrate sitting in family court, it provides insight into some challenges faced by families who are also subject to criminal proceedings. 

What are the key differences you find in both criminal and family court magistrate roles?

In both courts you deal with different types of cases.  

In family court the pace is often much slower, with more reading of case papers and documents, often referred to as a bundle.  As a Presiding Justice (chair), we have to provide very clear reasons based on what we have heard, and this is different for every case. The court’s primary concern is for the children involved in the case; therefore, it is important to understand how much they have suffered already. Children require stability, and proceeding through courts can often cause stress and anxiety. 

In criminal court, at a much faster pace, we can deal with about 20 cases per sitting (half a day). Unless I sit in a trial court, then it may be the same case we deal with all day. The case type you deal with can vary, from crime and theft to road traffic incidents. However, we can also come across very serious crime where the sentencing powers of magistrates aren’t great enough, so we pass these cases up to the Crown Court. 

What do you think people interested in the family and criminal court magistrate role should know before applying? 

  • Be a good listener and do not judge. People come from all walks of life into a magistrates’ court and often they are very nervous.  
  • Be very open-minded and treat everyone with respect. The way we talk to defendants in court has definitely changed over my 18 years as a magistrate for the better.  
  • Ensure to meet the minimum sitting requirement. Generally, this is 13 days over a 12-month period or 26 sittings, which is a half day. Sometimes these sittings get cancelled for example, if you were scheduled to sit in the trial court and the case ended after half a day.  
  • You must attend training. You’ll receive training in your local area and through the Judicial College. Find out more about training and support provided.

What advice would you give to someone looking to become a family and criminal court magistrate? 

Just apply, it is the best role ever! I am so pleased I have been a magistrate for the last 18 years. Some days can be long, tiring and frustrating, but if you care about people and want to see justice done it is the role for you. I can see so many similarities with the work I do in court and at work. This includes listening to information and then making a decision as a team. I have been able to work with difference of opinions when working as a team and coming to one conclusion, even though I may disagree with an element of it.  

Vacancies open

Our applications are currently open for both family and criminal court. However, if there are no vacancies in your area, make sure to register your interest to stay updated. 

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