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Magistrates: Who are they and what do they do? | UK News

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British courtrooms, to many people, remain a mystery and often the only chance we get to see inside one is when they appear in big courtroom dramas or in grainy sketches from trials.

And although in blockbuster cases the image of men or women wearing big wigs and banging a gavel is true, more than 90% of court cases are heard and judged by magistrates – members of the public with a passion for justice.

:: Who can be a magistrate?

Well, pretty much anyone.

Magistrates do not need a formal legal education, or understand the intricacies of the British judicial system. People simply need to be willing to take on the role, an adult under 65, and be able to hear clearly.

Judge gavel with Justice lawyers, Businessman in suit or lawyer working on a documents in courtroom. Legal law, advice and justice concept.
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Magistrates can pass sentences if they find criminals guilty

The government also look for people who understand social issues, have a sense of fairness and can think logically when it comes to the arguments.

You also need to have a clear legal record – and not have been found guilty of major crimes, or a series of minor offences.

You also cannot serve if you have a job that is a clear conflict of interest, like a police officer.

::What sort of training do they get?

They are not expected to walk into the courtroom on day one and start judging straight away.

There is a period of training that new magistrates have to undertake that amounts to about three and a half days.

And because magistrates are unlikely to versed in every part of British law – legal clerks are on hand to answer questions during hearings.

Empty vintage court's room with table,chairs and microphones.
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Magistrates sit in groups of three

:: What do magistrates do?

As a group of three, the magistrates sit and hear criminal court cases.

All three have equal decision making powers, but the magistrate that sits in the centre is the one that speaks on behalf of the group.

Magistrate courts do not have a jury and instead the magistrates themselves have the power to determine whether someone is innocent or not.

They also decide on bail conditions, and ultimately pass a sentence – which can include up to six months of jail time, fines or community service.

Cases heard in magistrate courts could range from minor assault, criminal damage and drink driving, to traffic offences and environmental issues.

Serious crimes, including sexual offences or murders are heard in crown courts with judges and juries.

London, England, UK - December 7, 2014: Westminster Magistrates' Court is a magistrates' court at 181 Marylebone Road, London. The court opened on 22 September 2011. The Chief Magistrate of England and Wales, who is the Senior District Judge of England and Wales, sits at the court, and all extradition and terrorism-related cases pass through it.
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The courts hear minor cases and can pass sentences quickly

:: Do they get paid?

No. Magistrates are unpaid and work on a voluntary basis.

However, it is a legal right for people to get time off work to carry out the role and they can claim for a standard rate allowance, as well as expenses for travel and food.

The time commitment expected of magistrates is at least 13 days, or 26 half-days, a year.

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