Magistrates are sometimes known as justices of the peace.

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Magistrates are volunteers, doing their work unpaid but able to claim expenses. They come from all walks of life and do not need any legal qualifications but they do have to satisfy the Lord Chancellor, who is responsible for their appointment, that they possess the following characteristics:


Good character;

Understanding and communication;

Social awareness;

Maturity and sound temperament;

Sound judgement;

Commitment and reliability.

There will be some people whose circumstances exclude them from consideration.  Persons convicted of serious criminal offences will be unsuitable as will undischarged bankrupts. 

Members of the armed forces, police officers and traffic wardens will be unsuitable as their work requirements are likely to conflict with the work of magistrates. Persons will also be excluded if they or their relatives are closely involved with the administration of justice.


A magistrate is expected to work at least 26 half days a year.  Magistrates as young as 18 can be appointed and retire by the age of 70.


The oath they take is the same as that taken by all Judges.

"I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second, in the office of Justice of the Peace and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of the realm without fear or favour, affection or ill will."

Magistrates’ Courts deal with around 97% of criminal matters and magistrates are generally acknowledged to be carrying out a vital role. The magistrates sit as benches of three in court, and will be representative of the local community whenever possible.


Much of their criminal work will involve sentencing offenders when a guilty plea has been made.  They will use the sentencing guidelines to help them with this and will receive the advice of the court's legal adviser. Magistrates are restricted in the length of sentence they can give and the amount of the fine they can impose. 


If there is a "not guilty" plea they will hear evidence and listen to witnesses and reach a verdict which they will announce. The criminal cases they hear are the less serious ones such as criminal damage, theft, motoring offences and public disorder.  Magistrates will commit the more serious cases to the higher courts.  They will consider bail applications and can grant search warrants.

Magistrates also sit in the Family Proceedings Court when they decide many civil matters, particularly in relation to family work and deal with a range of issues affecting families and children. Magistrates sitting in the Family Proceedings Court will undertake additional specialised training.

Magistrates’ civil jurisdiction also involves enforcing financial penalties and orders such as non-payment of council tax.


Magistrates will receive training before they sit in court but they do not have to sit exams. They will be given a mentor for the first year or so who will help them with problems as they arise and after 18 months they will be appraised by specially trained magistrates. They will also be expected to keep up to date with new legislation and procedures.

Judges, Tribunals and Magistrates | Judicial roles | Magistrates

The Magistrates' Association

Become a magistrate - GOV.UK

Magistrates quitting in 'considerable' numbers over court closures .



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