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Magistrates - selection and appointment
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Magistrates: selection and appointment

Magistrates, generally.

Magistrates are volunteers drawn from all walks of life, they are also called Justices of the Peace (JPs).

They are not legally qualified but are given appropriate training to undertake their duties.

They usually sit in panels of three and are advised on matters of law by legally qualified clerks.

Over 95% of all criminal cases are dealt with by lay magistrates.

They also decide many civil matters, particularly in relation to family work, hear licensing applications and deal with requests for warrants for arrest and search.
 

Advisory Committees

Theis assisted in making appointments by local Advisory Committees which normally cover counties or metropolitan areas.

 

Each committee is chaired by the Lord Lieutenant or by a Circuit Judge. It is made up of magistrates and local people who are not magistrates in a proportion of 2:1. There are at about 90 Advisory Committees.

 

An Advisory Committee is responsible for interviewing applicants for the magistracy.

 

Qualifications of a magistrate

 

Key qualities

(1998 Directions)

 

To become a magistrate an applicant must be:

  • Aged 18 (formerly 27) - 65

  • In good health with satisfactory hearing

  • Not a bankrupt

  • Of good character

  • Not associated with the administration of justice, for example police officers and

  • Not have significant court orders against them (including serious motoring matters)

The applicant must possess the "six qualities"

  1. Good character: personal integrity and the respect and trust of others

  2. Understanding and communication: to be able to understand documents, identify relevant facts, follow evidence and communicate effectively

  3. Social awareness: to appreciate and accept the rule of law

  4. Maturity and sound temperament: an awareness and understanding of people and a sense of fairness

  5. Sound judgement: to be able to think logically, weigh arguments and reach a sound decision

  6. Commitment and reliability: committed to serving the community and making the necessary time commitment, willing to undergo training, and in sufficiently good health to undertake your duties on a regular basis

  • British nationality is no longer a requirement

  • A requirement that they live within 15 miles is no longer a requirement.

Young magistrates

Britainís youngest magistrate was 20-year-old Annand Limbachia from Crawley. Her appointment was not been without controversy.

 

Blind

In November 1998 the first blind magistrate for over 50 years was appointed (but deaf persons are considered not eligible).

 

Application

Candidates usually apply to become magistrates, either in response to advertisements, or directly to the secretary of a local Advisory Committee or to the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

 

There follows at least two interviews before the local Advisory Committee, the interviewing committee being comprised of JP's, the Lord-Lieutenant (the Queen's representative in the county) and other lay people.

 

Appointment

Appointment depends on the basic qualifications, and also the needs of the bench in order that there is a balance of men/women, minority ethnics/ political affiliation etc.

 

Magistrates are appointed by the Lord Chancellor on behalf, and in the name of Her Majesty (except in the Duchy of Lancashire, where they are appointed by Chancellor of the Duchy)

 

Once appointment

  • there are 30,400 Justices of the Peace

  • once appointed a magistrate is assigned to a Local Justice Area but has national jurisdiction pursuant to the Courts Act 2003.

  • There is a basic requirement that each magistrate must be available to sit 26 days and up to 35 half-day siftings a year.

  • Some sittings will be whole days.

Removal from office

Removal from office by the 'Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice'

Magistrates are easily removed for misconduct or incompetence.

 

They retire from active duty at or before the age of 70.

 

Administration

Department for Constitutional Affairs

 

Her Majesty's Court Service

Magistrates are supervised by the Department for Constitutional affairs.

 

For good constitutional reasons appointment of magistrates is kept independent of the administration of the courts themselves. 

 

Which is why Magistrates' Courts are the responsibility of a separate body, Her Majesty's Court Service

 

Court Service website here.

Local Justice Areas

The term Local Justice Area (LJA) was introduced by the Courts Act 2003 until the implementation of that legislation they were known as Petty Sessions Areas.


The Justices who sit to hear court business within a LJA are collectively referred to as a "Bench" of Justices.

 

Since April 2001, England and Wales has been divided into 42 areas which are co-terminus (same boundaries) with the Local Justice Areas.

 

[Magistrates Courts were until April 2005 governed by their local Magistrates Courts Committee (MCC).]

 

Her Majesty's Court Service is responsible for magistrates courts

The last vestige of local responsibility for the administration of justice was removed by the abolition of Magistratesí Courts Committees on 1 April 2005.

 

These committees had been established in 1949. As management bodies they had many critics and, at least until recent times, to many they seemed narrow and parochial in their outlook.

 

They were replaced by the new unified court administration as part of Her Majestyís Court Service.

 

Machinery for local consultation and input into provision of courts is provided by Courts Boards.

 

Judicial Appointments Commission

The Judicial Appointments Commission will not assume responsibility for advising on the appointment of magistrates until it is ready to do so.

 

The cost of magistrates

Time off work; pay and allowances

There is a legal requirement to allow an employee time off to be a magistrate in the Employment Rights Act 1996:

It is up to the employer whether they pay the employee for the time they spend in court.

 

If a business cannot afford time off with pay, magistrates can claim a loss of earnings allowance at a set rate from the State.

 

They can also claim for travel and subsistence.

 

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