What is a Magistrate ?

In the United Kingdom, magistrates are volunteer judges who are appointed to serve in local courts. Magistrates are also known as justices of the peace (JP).

Magistrates hear a range of criminal and civil cases, and they are responsible for making decisions on whether a case should be heard by a higher court or not. In this article, we will explore the role of magistrates in the UK, their responsibilities, and how they are appointed.

History of Magistrates

The history of magistrates in the UK can be traced back to the 12th century when the first justices of the peace were appointed by King Henry II. These justices of the peace were responsible for keeping the peace and enforcing the law in their local communities.

Over time, the role of justices of the peace evolved, and they began to hear cases and make judgments in local courts. The modern magistrates’ court system can be traced back to the 19th century when the first modern magistrates’ court was established in Bow Street, London.

The creation of magistrates’ courts was part of a wider reform of the criminal justice system in the 19th century. Before this, the criminal justice system was based on a system of punishment and retribution, with little emphasis on rehabilitation or the rights of the accused.

The creation of magistrates’ courts marked a significant shift in the approach to criminal justice in the UK. The emphasis was now on rehabilitation and addressing the root causes of criminal behavior, rather than simply punishing offenders.

Magistrates were initially appointed by local justices of the peace, but in 1919, the responsibility for appointing magistrates was transferred to the Lord Chancellor.

Despite the changes in the role of magistrates over the years, their fundamental principles remain the same. They are volunteers who serve their local community and uphold the law in a fair and impartial manner.

The Role of Magistrates

Magistrates are responsible for hearing cases in the magistrates’ court, which is the lowest tier of the court system in the UK. They are also responsible for making decisions on whether a case should be sent to a higher court, such as the Crown Court. Magistrates’ courts deal with around 95% of all criminal cases in England and Wales.

Magistrates’ duties vary from deciding whether a defendant should be granted bail to deciding whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty of a criminal offence. They also have the power to impose sentences, such as fines, community service orders, and prison sentences of up to six months.

Magistrates also hear civil cases, such as disputes over unpaid debts, and family cases, such as child custody and adoption. In these cases, magistrates are responsible for making decisions on issues such as child custody arrangements, financial support, and visitation rights.

How to become a Magistrate ?

Before you can apply to become a magistrate, you must visit your local court or research how family courts work to prepare for your application.

You must visit a criminal court at least twice in the 12 months before you apply. You’ll be asked about this in your application.

Find your nearest court. The court will tell you when to visit and which courtrooms to see.

Research how family courts work (*)

You cannot visit a family court because these cases are heard in private. To prepare for your application, you must research what it’s like working as a family court magistrate.

Prepare for your application

When you apply you’ll be asked to give examples to show that you can:

  • understand and appreciate different perspectives
  • communicate with sensitivity and respect
  • work and engage with people professionally
  • make fair, impartial and transparent decisions
  • show self-awareness and be open to learning

You also need to provide 2 references. If you’re employed, one of them must be from your employer. They cannot be a relative or someone you live with.

How to apply online

Visit the magistrates website to find a role in your area and apply.

If your application is successful, you’ll be invited to an interview.

If there are no roles available near you

You can register your interest. You’ll get an email when a role in your area is available.

Become a magistrate

(*) Unsurprisingly the website is out of date and this statement is untrue.

Open justice is a fundamental principle in our courts and tribunals system, and will continue to be as we increase the use of audio and video technology.

Requests from the media and others to observe a hearing remotely In The County Court and The Family Court at Brighton should be made direct to: or by calling 0300 1235577. Arrangements will then be made to enable you to attend.

Family Courts and Open Justice / Brighton County Court Courtserve

The Appointment of Magistrates

Magistrates are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, who is the UK government’s Minister of Justice. Magistrates are not required to have any legal qualifications, but they must be over 18 years old and under 70 years old. They must also have no criminal convictions.

Magistrates are selected by local advisory committees, which are made up of people from the local community. These committees are responsible for assessing candidates’ suitability for the role and making recommendations to the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor then appoints the successful candidates.

Magistrates are appointed for a period of five years and can be reappointed for another five years. Magistrates are volunteers and are not paid for their work. However, they are reimbursed for their expenses, such as travel costs and subsistence.

Training for Magistrates

Magistrates receive training before they take up their role, which includes classroom-based training and on-the-job training. The training covers areas such as court procedures, legal principles, and sentencing guidelines.

Magistrates also receive ongoing training throughout their term of office to ensure that they are up to date with changes in the law and court procedures.

Diversity among Magistrates

There has been criticism in the past that magistrates are not representative of the communities they serve, with concerns that they are predominantly white, middle-class, and elderly. In recent years, efforts have been made to address this issue, with initiatives to encourage a more diverse range of people to become magistrates.

The Judicial Diversity Committee was established in 2010 to promote diversity in the judiciary, including magistrates. The committee’s aim is to encourage more women, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities to apply for judicial positions.

In 2019, the Ministry of Justice launched a campaign to encourage more young people to become magistrates. The campaign highlighted the benefits of becoming a magistrate, such as gaining new skills, meeting new people, and contributing to the community.


Magistrates play a crucial role in the UK’s justice system, ensuring that justice is administered fairly and efficiently at the local level. They are appointed based on their suitability, and they receive training to ensure that they are able to carry out their duties effectively. Efforts are being made to encourage a more diverse range of people to become magistrates, to ensure that the magistrates are more representative of the communities they serve.

Magistrates provide a valuable service to their local community by hearing cases and making decisions that affect the lives of individuals. Their role is an important one and is essential in ensuring that the justice system is accessible to all.

For more information on the role of magistrates in the UK, the following websites may be useful:

  1. The Magistrates Association – The Magistrates Association is a membership organization that represents magistrates in England and Wales. They provide support, training, and guidance to magistrates, and they also work to promote the role of magistrates in the justice system.
  2. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service – Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is responsible for the administration of the courts and tribunals in England and Wales. Their website provides information on the different types of courts and tribunals, including magistrates’ courts.
  3. Judicial Appointments Commission – The Judicial Appointments Commission is responsible for selecting and appointing judges in England and Wales, including magistrates. Their website provides information on the appointment process, as well as guidance for potential candidates.

We recommend you should always seek formal legal advice if required, from a qualified and reputable lawyer (solicitor or barrister).

We have a number of links to Free Legal Resources and Legal Organisations on our Free Legal Advice , Legal Aid and Pro Bono pages.

Read the reviews of Gavin Howe Barrister

“He is awful, underhanded and should not be practising law!”

Latest Articles

All articles can be found in our Sitemap

By Dom Watts

Dom Watts is the founder of the Ministry of Injustice. Dom works in IT and has no legal training and is not a lawyer. You can find Dom on X or Google.

In 2002 Dom Watts was an unlikely consumer champion. The dad of three from Croydon took on the power and might of Kodak – and won………

Dom on BBC Working Lunch

Dom Watts interviewed by Gerald Main BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

Dr Laurence Godfrey (Godfrey v Demon Internet Ltd [1999] EWHC QB 244) wrote: “I am very pleased to read that there appears to have been a remarkable U-turn."

Rule of Law - Open Justice - Policing By Consent

Access To Justice Is A Right Not A Privilege
Equal Justice Under Law