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Becoming a magistrate

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If you’re looking to give something back to the community or you have a strong interest in the justice system you may wish to consider becoming one of England and Wales’ 28,000 magistrates, or a Justices of the Peace (JP) as they are also known.

What is a magistrate?

Magistrates are volunteers who sit in court and hear criminal, civil and family cases in their local area. A bench of three magistrates including a chairperson will hear each case. In criminal cases the magistrates will decide if the person should be granted bail and if the case is serious enough to be referred to the Crown Court. If not then the bench hears evidence, decides whether or not the defendant is guilty and what punishment they should receive. There is no jury in a magistrates’ court.

What sentences can magistrates give?

Magistrates are authorised to give fines up to £5,000 and sentence people to unpaid work in the community or prison sentences of up to six months.

Who can be a magistrate?

To become a magistrate you have to be between the ages of 18 and 65. Magistrates are generally expected to serve for at least five years and must retire when they reach the age of 70.

Magistrates come from all walks of life and you don’t need to have any qualifications or legal training. While magistrates aren’t necessarily required to hold a blemish free record, those who have been convicted of a serious crime or a number of smaller crimes are unlikely to have their application accepted. If you’ve been banned from driving in the past 10 years or have been declared bankrupt then you may also be refused.

How much time do I need to commit?

Magistrates need to be in court for a minimum of 13 days, or 26 half days, each year. Many employers give staff reasonable time off for magistrate duty and rotas are available well in advance to help employees organise their time. You won’t be expected to sit more than 70 times during the space of a year.

Do magistrates get paid?

becoming a magistrateAs volunteers, magistrates are not paid but can claim expenses for things like travel. Many employers allow staff paid time off for magistrate duties but where that isn’t offered a set rate can be claimed for loss of earnings.

What training will I receive?

Before taking up the role of magistrate you will need to attend meetings and training sessions. These will total around 18 hours to begin with and could take place over a long weekend or as several shorter sessions over a few weeks. When you’re appointed as a magistrate you’ll be allocated a mentor for the first 12 to 18 months. Every magistrate is expected to attend on-going training sessions and is appraised throughout their time serving on a bench. All new magistrates are allocated to the adult court but have the opportunity to train to serve on youth or family courts once they’ve gained experience. A legal adviser will always be present in court to advise on points of law or procedure.

How do I apply?

Before applying it is recommended that you sit in on at least two or three cases being heard at your local magistrates’ court. You need to send your application form to the advisory committee for your local court, which will be able to tell you if there are any vacancies. You can find out where your nearest court is by checking online. Once your application form has been received you may be invited to attend an interview. You will also have to provide references.

 

 

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About Maria Brett

About Maria Brett

Maria is a freelance writer with over 10 years' experience producing content for a variety of publications and websites. When not working or looking after her two gorgeous sons, she can usually be found playing flugelhorn in a brass band, helping out at her local hospital radio station, shouting at the television while watching Formula 1, at the cinema or plonked on the couch with a cold glass of wine.

Website: Maria Brett

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