All magistrates are carefully trained before sitting and continue to receive training throughout their service.
Magistrates’ training is based on competences. These are essentially a description of what a magistrate needs to know and needs to be able to do so that he/she can fulfil the role. Competences include a checklist of observable behaviour and level of knowledge magistrates will need to demonstrate. They cover each courtroom role from magistrates to chairmen in adult, youth and family courts.
Training in the first year
- Initial training Before sitting in court, a new magistrate will undergo introductory training on the basics of the role. After this he/she will sit in court with two other experienced magistrates.
- Mentoring Each new magistrate has a specially trained magistrate mentor to guide them through their first months. There are 6 formal mentored sittings in the first 12-18 months, where the new magistrate will review his/her learning progress and talk over any training needs.
- Core training Over this first year, further training, visits to penal institutions and/or observations take place to equip magistrates with the key knowledge they need. Every magistrate is given a core workbook for further optional self-study.
- Consolidation training At the end of the first year, consolidation training builds on the learning from sittings and core training. This is designed to help magistrates plan for their ongoing development and prepare for their first appraisal.
- First appraisal About 12-18 months after appointment, when both mentor and magistrate agree he/she is ready, the new justice is appraised. Another specially trained magistrate appraiser will sit as part of the bench, observing whether the new magistrate is demonstrating he/she is competent in the role, against the competences. When successful, the magistrate is deemed fully competent.
Ongoing training and development
Magistrates continue training throughout their magisterial career.
- appraisals take place every three years to ensure the magistrate maintains his/her competency in whichever court they sit
- continuation training takes place once every three years, usually before appraisals
- update training on new legislation and procedures is delivered to magistrates as required
- threshold training accompanies each development in a magistrates’ role, there is a matching training process. For instance magistrates may go through comprehensive training to become a chairman or presiding justice. Alternatively, they may choose to undergo training in the specialist skills needed for family or youth courts
Who trains magistrates?
In each court area, the justices’ clerk is responsible for providing all essential training to magistrates. This may be delegated to a training officer or bench legal adviser. Training is usually delivered within the same courts board area. Content is guided by a national syllabus and training materials, although each Area is free to make adaptations according to local needs and circumstances. In some courts magistrates will also be involved in delivering certain aspects of non-legal training. Other agencies, such as the Magistrates’ Association, may also provide contextual and awareness training to magistrates.
Training – the national picture
The Judicial College (JC) is responsible for overseeing and guiding the training of magistrates nationally. It produces and develops national training materials, good practice guidance, syllabi for training and also trains court trainers. The Board works closely with national stakeholder organisations such as the Magistrates’ Association and the Justices’ Clerks’ Society. The Association’s representatives contribute to the development of training materials and other training policy, while the Association is regularly funded to produce specific training projects on behalf of the Board. The JC also oversees the monitoring and evaluation of training nationally and reviews, on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, reports on training.
The Magistrates’ Association’s role
The MA was originally set up to provide training to justices when this was not delivered by the courts. Things have moved on, and the MA’s role has changed with the times but it still plays an important role in providing training for magistrates. The MA’s involvement in training covers three main areas:
- Local branch training - some local branches provide ‘contextual and awareness training’ sessions on issues such as, alcohol and crime or issues of local importance such as animal related crime
- Promoting quality in training nationally - The MA has a Training Committee which regularly raises issues which tries to ensure the courts keep improving magistrates’ training, so justices can be effective in court. Recent lobbying has been for more accessibility of training for example for working magistrates and responding to consultations on the appointment and selection of family and youth court magistrates
- Innovating courses and learning materials The MA develops new training courses, or learning materials for the benefit of all magistrates. It may initiate new types of materials – like a self study workbook for chairmen – and pass it on to the courts service to update it in future.