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2 June 2022
Practicalities of being a magistrate

We reflect on the immense contribution magistrates make to their communities and society as a whole.

Every year, people across the UK come together from 1 to 7 June to mark Volunteers’ Week, a period of celebration of the fantastic contribution that volunteers make to our communities and a moment to say thank you for all their hard work.

This year, we’ve been reflecting on the invaluable ways in which our members – ordinary people who, as magistrates, perform one of the most significant and rewarding voluntary roles in England and Wales – give back to their communities and benefit society more widely.

  • Magistrates are the gateway to the criminal justice system, dealing with the vast majority of cases. Magistrates’ role in the functioning of England and Wales’ criminal justice system cannot be understated. They deal with around 90 per cent of criminal cases, spanning everything from traffic offences to remand courts. Magistrates also sit in family and youth courts. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the dedication of volunteer magistrates was key in reducing the backlog of cases in all courts.
  • Magistrates are highly committed to the role and to performing well. Ninety-eight per cent of the 1,300 sitting magistrates who responded to a survey we carried out earlier this year agreed that they feel they provide an important service in their community, and 97 per cent strongly agreed they were committed to do their job well.
  • Magistrates ensure justice is done. As judicial office holders, magistrates commit to “do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will”; they are key to delivering justice in England and Wales. As the most diverse part of the judiciary, magistrates are well-placed to undertake this role. Efforts are underway to increase the diversity of the magistracy still further, and the Magistrates’ Association (MA) was heartened to learn that 25 per cent of the 40,000 expressions of interest received from potential applicants to the role were from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds, and a similar proportion were under 40.
  • Magistrates know the local community. An underpinning principle of the magistracy is “justice from your peers”. As such, magistrates are lay people (often with no prior legal training) who use their existing skills and experience to serve the area which they live. This means that they know and – with the support of regular training and a legal adviser – make decisions that benefit their local community.
  • Magistrates are enthusiastic about outreach. Passionate about their role, magistrates often get actively involved in promoting the work of the magistracy and this unique volunteering opportunity to others. The MA runs the Magistrates in the Community programme, a community engagement initiative that sees members deliver presentations on a variety of topics to schools, colleges, faith centres and  other community groups/settings. They discuss with audiences what it means to be a magistrate, how a sentence is reached, and the kinds of cases a magistrate may encounter. This is key to ensuring public awareness and confidence in the magistracy, as well as to inspiring the future generation of volunteers.

If you’re considering applying to the magistracy, why not read more about the role and find out how being an associate MA member could help you in this journey.