Skip Main Navigation
Share this page
16 October 2023
Adult court matters Practicalities of being a magistrate

To mark Black History Month, Yvonne Watkins-Knight offers a glimpse into what a typical day giving back to her community as a magistrate looks like.

The text reads: member blog, Yvonne Watkins-Knight. It is accompanied by Yvonne's photo.

A trying commute

I left home with plenty of time to spare as traffic is always hellish. Today was no different, and I only arrived at Croydon Magistrates’ Court at 8.55am. I parked, produced my ID at the magistrates’ entrance, and headed upstairs to the main retiring room, exchanging good mornings with the district judges I passed on the way.

A welcoming retiring room

A few magistrates were already present, having conversations, checking their lists for the day, and discussing cases. I greeted them all warmly, signed in and learnt that I would be overseeing sentencing cases in Court 12.

Magistrates sit in benches of three: a Presiding Justice (PJ)—me—and two wingers. I had a chat with the winger who’d already arrived, and picked up and scanned my court lists to ensure there were no names I recognised. Although this has never been the case in the 15 years I’ve been a magistrate, it’s a standard check all magistrates undertake to maintain impartiality.

Preparing for the day’s business

An important stage of any magistrate’s day is preparation. For me, this first involved reviewing the types of offences on my list and the purpose for their listing—a real mixture, including possessions of bladed articles, sexual offences, assaults, drug charges, and breaches. I then logged into a court laptop and began to go through the case files, reading probation reports to learn more about the defendants who were likely to receive community or custodial sentences—specifically, their past and current circumstances, antecedents (that is, history of any previous convictions), related offences and criminal histories. I then browsed through the relevant sentencing guidelines before making myself a cup of tea.

Three becomes two

By now the second winger had arrived. However, at around 9.40am, a fellow winger who was sitting in another court room alerted us that their PJ was unwell. As a court cannot go ahead without a PJ to direct matters, one of my wingers (who is also a trained PJ) offered to fill in. This meant that my bench of three became a bench of two. This wasn’t a problem because I and my winger are highly experienced. It’s a good example, though, of the importance of magistrates being adaptable.

Our legal briefing

As all the magistrates departed from the main retiring room to their courts’ retiring rooms, our legal clerk arrived. I updated her that we were a bench of two and, together with the winger, we went through our list for the day. This is always a great opportunity for me to ask about any cases I identify as unusual or that might have complex issues, and for the legal clerk to bring the same to our attention and brief us accordingly.

Following this, I asked for the names of all key personnel in court—the crown prosecution, the probation officer, the duty solicitor(s) and list caller—as it’s important to me to address everyone in court, including defendants and their representatives, by their name and to pronounce their names correctly.

All rise

Court starts at 10.00am sharp. I knocked on the court room door twice to let the legal advisor know we had arrived. She then asked the court to “all rise” and we entered. I say good morning to the court, and we take our seats. I paused for a moment to remember my integrity and the importance of being true to myself and uncompromising in what is right, and business then begins.

A busy day administering justice for my community

It was a full and very productive day, with all 18 matters on our list completed and pronounced confidently and justly. We issued fines and community orders, gave one suspended sentence, sent one case to the crown court (due to it being outside of our sentencing remit), and adjourned a couple of cases due to probation not having produced pre-sentencing reports. I thanked all key personnel in court and retired.

After a quick debrief with the winger and legal clerk, I took off my magistrate hat and headed home feeling satisfied that I had carried out my role with integrity. Tomorrow, I wear a different hat, and head to my day job.