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3 June 2024
Family court matters Practicalities of being a magistrate

For Volunteers’ Week, one of our members, Christopher Walker, shares his journey to the bench and encourages others to apply to become magistrates.

The text reads member blog, Christopher Walker. It is accompanied by Christopher's photo.

Being ‘sworn in’ was something I would only ever seen in American movies! Every year, I would secretly wish for the jury service summons to drop through my letter box, but it never came. I am a legal thriller kind of guy, and my friends refer to me as ‘tigger,’ as I can never not be busy.

When I saw my local magistrates’ bench was recruiting, I knew I had to apply! I am a huge believer that if you want to make a difference, you have to be the difference. So, when I was sworn in as a magistrate, it made for an exciting future and marked the start of my judicial career. Albeit I must confirm it was not quite like the movies or John Grisham books and there is certainly no abseiling from the roofs or Gerard Butler by my side.

My journey to the bench

When younger, I was attacked while walking home one evening. It was an unprovoked attack and to this day without reason. It resulted in me having facial reconstruction surgery and several days in hospital. I decided then that I wanted to help others by trying to make the world a safer place! I studied a public services course at college straight from school with the idea of becoming a police officer. Part of the course allowed for a trip to the Sheffield Magistrates’ Court, and you guessed it, this is where it all began. This prompted my fascination for law and judiciary services and was one of the main reasons I went on to study law at university. While at university, I worked part-time as a paralegal for a family law firm, as this was my keen interest and so made it an easy choice to apply to join the Family Court Division.

Why become a magistrate?

I sit as a family magistrate. At the family court, on one hand, you will be dealing with heartbreaking scenarios, choosing, where the parent(s) cannot, the best outcome for a child. On the other hand, you will be making an order that will positively reflect the wishes and feelings of a child. As a magistrate, you will have different life experiences and background from those you sit with, and this is what makes a good bench that reflects the communities it serves. This is what is needed to ensure all aspects of a situation are considered and applied. The phrase “the welfare of the child is our paramount consideration” is what we centre our focus and all our decisions on, based on how the child will be safe and cared for throughout their childhood.

Being a family magistrate is tough, but ultimately rewarding. You are making a difference every day. Each sitting you undertake is different and with challenges. There is an abundance of documents to read before the case, but this need not be daunting. The process of application is long but needed and rewarding when you do your first observation to get a real feel of how the magistracy works.

You are never alone

Joining the judiciary affords you a new community hub, a sense of belonging and a true calling. Since the day I applied, I have felt welcomed, valued, and appreciated. My mentor is fantastic and super helpful. There are hundreds of guides, helpful articles, and experienced magistrates to call upon. The Magistrate’s Association (MA) has helped me further with this, as they too have a suite of helpful resources from ‘first-day sittings’ to ‘how to read large document bundles.’ You can join the MA for £5 a month – this gives you access to a community by your side, a wealth of knowledge and trust me there are no silly questions!


I am often asked “I thought magistrates are legal professionals or higher-class members of society…

This simply is not true! Magistrates are volunteers. We are real people. We care about justice. We have an array of different careers. We come from all different backgrounds and cultures. We do not all have law qualifications and neither do we need them. You always have a fantastic legal adviser in court to advise you of the law. Magistrates are members of society, volunteering and unpaid, to mediate real-life hardships. This is the reward. Making a difference to society. Our role is to be a ‘justice of the peace’ and that is exactly what we do. We gatekeep peace and ensure, based on all the evidence and facts presented to us, that the right outcome is achieved for a better society. Join us, it will be the best thing you did since reading my blog!