One of the things which differentiates the court system in England and Wales from courts around the world are the Magistrates Courts. This court is the first tier of the court system. Magistrates deal with minor crimes and misdemeanours, and are the first people to hear more serious courses which are then referred on to Crown Courts. Unlike judges in the higher courts, magistrates aren’t members of the legal profession, and are usually specially trained members of the public who work as a magistrate on a part time basis. If you’re looking for an unusual and interesting way to get involved in the community, then could training as a magistrate be for you?

Who Is Eligible to Be A Magistrate?

There are no formal academic qualifications needed to be a magistrate, and personal qualities are far more important than what you studied at school or College. There are age limits though, and magistrates must be over the age of 18 and under 65. You need good hearing to be able to listen to cases and be able to sit for lengthy periods. Certain occupations, such as Police Officers, are barred from serving as magistrates due to potential conflicts of interest. You’ll also have to think in a logical manner, look at evidence and documents and understand their relevance, and have a good understanding of social issues before making your decision. One of the key parts of the application process is to undergo a full DBS check. Having a criminal record does not automatically rule out working as a magistrate, but people who have been convicted or a serious crime, or a number of minor crimes are unlikely to apply successfully.

Time Commitment

Magistrates do not work full time, and are expected to be in court for 13 days a year. Often this is split into 26 half day sessions. Understanding employers might be happy to allow their employees leave to undertake their time in court, but this should be discussed with bosses before applying for a position as a magistrate as they are not legally obliged to allow you time off. Magistrates are not paid for their time but can claim allowances to compensate them for any loss of earnings, and are also allowed to claim expenses for travelling to and from court, and for board and lodging if they have to stay overnight. The rates for magistrates are set by the government and are published online.

What Sort of Cases do Magistrates Hear?

Serious crimes such as murder or rape might start off in a Magistrates’ Court, but are immediately passed higher up the chain. Magistrates hear cases such as theft, driving offences, handling stolen goods or less serious assaults. There is always a professional legal adviser in court to help the magistrates with procedure and to make sure everything is done properly. Magistrates work in groups of three, so never make decisions alone. They can impose penalties of up to 6 months in prison, but usually impose fines or make community service orders.