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What magistrates do

Magistrates are volunteers who hear cases in courts in their community. Each case is usually heard by 3 magistrates, including a magistrate who is trained to act as a chairperson.

Criminal cases

All criminal cases begin in a magistrates’ court.

Magistrates pass the most serious crimes (for example murder, rape and robbery) to the Crown Court. Magistrates decide if the defendant should be:

  • kept in custody - for example in a police or court cell

  • let out on strict conditions - for example, to keep away from named places or people

Magistrates deal with crimes like:

  • minor assaults

  • motoring offences

  • theft

  • handling stolen goods

Magistrates can give punishments such as:

  • fines

  • unpaid work in the community

  • prison for up to 6 months (or up to 12 months for more than 1 crime)

Civil and family cases

Magistrates also hear some civil and family cases involving:

  • unpaid Council Tax

  • TV licence evasion

  • child custody and adoption

  • taking children into care

Only experienced magistrates who have had special training can hear family cases.

Can you be a magistrate?

You need to give up some of your spare time and not everyone can serve as a magistrate.


You don’t need formal qualifications or legal training to become a magistrate.

You will get full training for the role, and a legal adviser in court will help you with questions about the law.


You have to be over 18 and under 65. Magistrates must retire at 70 and are normally expected to serve for at least 5 years.


You need to be able to hear clearly, with or without a hearing aid, to listen to a case. You also need to be able to sit and concentrate for long periods of time.

Personal qualities

You need to show you’ve got the right personal qualities, for example, that you are:

  • aware of social issues;

  • mature, understand people and have a sense of fairness;

  • reliable and committed to serving the community.

You also need to be able to:

  • understand documents, follow the evidence and communicate effectively

  • think logically, weigh up arguments and reach a fair decision

Good character

It’s unlikely you’ll be taken on if you have been:

  • found guilty of a serious crime;

  • found guilty of a number of minor offences;

  • banned from driving in the past 5 to 10 years;

  • declared bankrupt;

  • conflicts of interest.

You can’t be a magistrate if you work in one of a small number of jobs where there could be a conflict of interest - for instance if you are a police officer.

Time off for magistrate duties

You will need to be in court for at least 13 days, or 26 half-days, a year. Discuss with your employer how you will balance your work and magistrate duties. Your employer must, by law, allow you reasonable time off work to serve as a magistrate. You will get your rota well in advance, so you can give your employer plenty of notice of when you’ll be in court.

Pay and allowances

Magistrates are not paid, but many employers allow their employees time off with pay. If you lose out on pay, you can claim an allowance at a set rate, as well as allowances for travel and subsistence. 

Training to be a magistrate

You will need the training to be a magistrate. The training, when you start, will add up to about 21 hours, or 3 and a half days, as well as some meetings.

The training could take place over:

  • a long weekend;

  • weekdays;

  • short evening sessions over several weeks.
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