Become a magistrate
Many of the legal decisions made in England and Wales aren’t made by judges. They’re made by ordinary people who work in all sorts of fields and have no previous connection to the law profession. What they do have is a sense of fairness. They also have the ability to listen, make rational judgements and be proud representatives of their communities. These people are magistrates.
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Adrian Jones: (00:03)
What drew me to become a magistrate is, actually, are people listening to the voices of the people in the dock, the victims, the accused. Hi, my name’s Adrian Jones. I am the chief executive and founder of YourStory, working with vulnerable young people and their families in crisis. I’m also a magistrate sitting at the City of Westminster and City of London Magistrates Court.
I have a lot of respect for him anyway, as a person and CEO. Because of the role as magistrate, that’s enhanced it even more. I think he’s giving a lot back into community.
Adrian Jones: (00:43)
Why did I want to become a magistrate? Everyone asks me that. My English teacher at school, Mr. Flowers, he was a typical Cockney geezer, as they say. And he said to us one day that he’s also a magistrate and he hopes never to see us in court ever. And I just remember thinking, “Wow, this guy’s a magistrate, he talks like me, he doesn’t look like a magistrate,” and I was probably about 14, 15 at the time. I was growing up in South London, Battersea, and from low-income, single-parent family. And he had a similar background as well, and he was a teacher, but also a magistrate. Believe that we are enough. As one of my friends says, “We are enough.”
How does it work?
Magistrates volunteer for at least 13 days, plus training, a year for a minimum of five years to hear all sorts of cases in our courts. As the role is unpaid, magistrates tend to do this alongside other work commitments. If you’re self-employed or you have to sit unpaid, you can claim loss of earnings of up to £134.96 per day. As a magistrate, you can choose whether you want to sit in a criminal court or a family court.
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Hi, I’m Denise. I’ve worked here for 31 years as a team manager on the food section, and I’ve been a magistrate for the last 11. We deal with a variety of cases in magistrates court. We deal with 96% of all cases that come through the court system. We deal with anything from non-payment of council tax, non-payment of TV licenses, domestic violence, indecent exposure, animal cruelty, burglary, and obviously theft from shops as well. Obviously, I work in a shop, so my employees allow me 15 days a year to do my magistrate duties. But I do do some on my days off as well. 15 days a year fully covers my 26 sittings that I’m asked to do.
Denise will always give me as much notice as she can do. And she understands sometimes I can’t support the days, but generally we make sure we can, and we work on that two-way basis. I know that it’s important to her, which means it’s important to me, and it’s important to us as a business. Denise brings back into this business I think a sense of calm, that sense of community and working together in a team. I know that being a magistrate is being in a small team there, so being able to discuss things
I do enjoy using my brain again and actually thinking things through and being able to come to decisions with the other two magistrates. You learn to listen to all the evidence and then you learn to listen to other people’s point of views. So that is good as well. I enjoy that. This allows me to get involved in something that I’m really passionate about, and it’s about local justice for local people, and I want to be able to do that for people.
What will I do?
You’ll hear arguments from both the prosecution and the defence before deciding on the best course of action. You’ll have support from a legal advisor who’ll ensure you always follow the correct guidelines and procedures. Plus, you’ll work with two other magistrate volunteers – one of which will be the lead magistrate.
Would I make a good magistrate?
You don’t need legal experience or any special qualifications to become a magistrate. What matters is your strong communication skills, your sense of fairness, and your ability to consider different sides of an argument in a professional way. We look for people from diverse backgrounds because it’s important for magistrates to have a good understanding of the community and be able to represent the communities we support. So, you should enjoy representing your local area and helping to change it for the better.
Magistrates carry out their duties within courts run by HM Courts & Tribunals Service, which is recognised as a Disability Confident employer. We welcome and encourage applications from all groups, including those with a disability who are able, either unassisted or with reasonable adjustments, to carry out the full range of magistrate duties.
What are our requirements?
In terms of the specific requirements, you’ll need to be 18 to 74 years old and of good character with sound judgement. ‘Good character’ includes your motivations for applying, your commitment to the role and whether there is any reason that your appointment would impact public trust in the magistracy.
We also look for:
You’ll be happy to volunteer for at least 13 days a year (or 26 half days) for a minimum of five years.
We always do our best to allocate you to courts in your local area but if we’re unable to do this, you may need to be able to travel for up to two hours to get to court.
Good IT skills
You’ll be comfortable using iPads to access information.
All magistrates are required to undertake an enhanced-level DBS check.
For criminal court, you must not have any conflict of interest in your employment or other volunteering commitments (however, you could still be eligible for a family court role).
How will we support you?
As a new magistrate, you’ll receive training in your local area and through the Judicial College. Your training will be delivered through some face-to-face sessions, as well as via online learning. This will include:
- an initial half-day training session
- a three or five-day introductory training programme
- a mentor to help you learn and develop as you settle into the role.
After your first year, refresher training continues throughout your service – exactly how it works and what it covers will depend on whether you’re sitting in criminal or family court. All our training is free, and you’ll receive expenses for the days you attend.