How to become a magistrate

There
are currently around 28,000 magistrates in England and Wales, but more are
needed. Linda Pettit explains how to go about becoming part of the legal
establishment and why it could be beneficial for your career prospects

Why
do it?

Serving
as a magistrate can be a beneficial experience, not only for you, but your
company. It can help develop your decision-making, communications and listening
skills, as well as giving you an insight into the workings of the legal system
in England and Wales. It also provides you with the opportunity to play a vital
role in the legal process.

What’s
involved?

It
is magistrates (or JPs – justices of the peace) that make up the backbone of
the judicial system. They have no legal training, but sit on a bench of three
magistrates hearing mainly criminal cases.

Decision-making
powers include dispensing sentences of up to 12 months (raised from six months
under the Criminal Justice Act 2003), granting bail or referring the case to
the Crown Court.

Magistrates
are not paid for their time, but can claim allowances for travelling,
subsistence and financial loss. There are currently around 28,000 magistrates
in England and Wales and more are needed.

As
a magistrate you need to commit to a minimum of 26 half days a year, although
the average is around 35.

All
magistrates undergo some training before, and throughout their service on the
basic rules of court procedure, current legislation, sentencing power and
decision-making and communication skills. Mentoring, on-the-job training, court
observation and visits to other institutions also form part of the training
programme.

Am
I right for the job?

Magistrates
need to be of good character, have good understanding and communication skills,
and have an appreciation and acceptance of the law. They must have a mature
outlook and be of sound temperament, with sound judgement skills as well as
being committed and reliable.

To
apply you need to live in the area of the court’s jurisdiction, or within 15
miles of its boundaries. You should have a good knowledge of that area and have
lived locally for a minimum of 12 months. You also need to be in good health,
have sound hearing and sight and be able to concentrate for long periods of
time. Generally magistrates are appointed between the ages of 27 and 65, and
magistrates must retire at 70.

How
do I apply?

Potential
magistrates need to hold British nationality and there is a list of individuals
not eligible to apply – primarily those in the services or married to someone
in the services, or anyone who has been convicted for a serious offence or
number of minor offences.

Application
forms and information on becoming a magistrate can be obtained from the
secretary of the local Advisory Committee. Contact details for the committees
can be obtained from the Office of the Clerk to the Justices at your local
magistrates court or from the Office of the Lay Magistracy Branch in London
(see below), which advises the Lord Chancellor on the appointment of
magistrates in England and Wales. You can apply yourself, or any person or
organisation can recommend someone for appointment.

It’s
a good idea to visit your local court before you apply, to get an idea of the
process, you also need to establish that your employer will allow you to take
the time off to fulfil magistrate duties and your employer should be one of
your referees.

Contacts

Lay
Magistracy Branch
District Bench and Magistracy Division
Judicial Group
1st Floor Selborne House
54 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QW
Tel 0207 210 8990
E-mail: laymagistrates.judicialgroup@dca.gsi.gov.uk

For
further information visit www.dca.gov.uk
or www.magistrates-association.org.uk

Comments are closed.