Appeal for magistrates due to volunteers shortage

Wigan and Leigh Magistrates' Court
Wigan and Leigh Magistrates' Court

Wiganers are being urged to apply to become a magistrate following a shortage of volunteers.

There are now vacancies at courts throughout the region, including at Wigan & leigh Magistrates Court.

The involvement of lay people, recruited from a cross-section of our society, is a central principle in the administration of justice

Lord Chancellor Liz Truss

Magistrates contribute to the judiciary system in the most exceptional way - giving their considerable skills, experience and time in a voluntary manner. Recruitment has now opened and the campaign will continue over the summer.

But who can become one and what exactly do they do?

What magistrates do

Magistrates are volunteers who hear cases in courts in their community.

Each case is usually heard by three magistrates, including one who is trained to act as a chairperson.

A legal adviser in the court gives advice on the law and makes sure the magistrates follow the right procedures.

All criminal cases begin in a magistrates’ court. Magistrates pass the most serious crimes (for example murder, rape and robbery) to the Crown Court. Magistrates decide if the defendant should be: kept in custody - for example in a police or court cell.

Let out on strict conditions - for example to keep away from named places or people.

Magistrates deal with crimes like: minor assaults, motoring offences, theft, handling stolen goods.

Magistrates can give punishments such as: fines, unpaid work in the community, prison for up to six months (or up to 12 months for more than one crime).

Magistrates also hear some civil and family cases involving: unpaid Council Tax, TV licence evasion, child custody and adoption, taking children into care.

Only experienced magistrates who have had special training can hear family cases.

Can you be a magistrate?

Before you apply to become a magistrate it is recommended that you visit your local court at least once, and a few times if you can, to check the role is right for you.

The court can let you know when it’s best to visit and which courtrooms to go and see. If you are invited to an interview, you will be asked to talk about your visits.

You need to give up some of your spare time and not everyone can serve as a magistrate.

You don’t need formal qualifications or legal training to become a magistrate and you will get full training for the role, and a legal adviser in court will help you with questions about the law.

You have to be over 18 and under 65 and magistrates must retire at 70 and are normally expected to serve for at least five years.

You need to be able to hear clearly, with or without a hearing aid, to listen to a case. You also need to be able to sit and concentrate for long periods of time.

You need to show you’ve got the right personal qualities, for example that you are: aware of social issues, mature, understand people and have a sense of fairness, reliable and committed to serving the community.

You also need to be able to: understand documents, follow evidence and communicate effectively, think logically, weigh up arguments and reach a fair decision.

Good character

It’s unlikely you’ll be taken on if you have been: found guilty of a serious crime, found guilty of a number of minor offence, banned from driving in the past five to 10 year, declared bankrupt.

You can’t be a magistrate if you work in one of a small number of jobs where there could be a conflict of interest - for instance if you are a police officer.

Time off for magistrate duties

You will need to be in court for at least 13 days, or 26 half-days, a year. Discuss with your employer how you will balance your work and magistrate duties, but your employer must, by law, allow you reasonable time off work to serve as a magistrate.

You will get your rota well in advance, so you can give your employer plenty of notice of when you’ll be in

court.

Magistrates are not paid, but many employers allow their employees time off with pay; If you lose out on pay, you can claim an allowance at a set rate, as well as allowances for travel and subsistence.

Training to be a magistrate

The training when you start will add up to about 21 hours, or three and a half days, as well as some meetings.

The training takes place over a long weekend, weekdays or short evening sessions over several weeks

Application forms and further information on how to become a magistrate are available on https://www.gov.uk/become-magistrate.

You can also contact the magistrates HR Team if you have any queries magistrateshrteam@judiciary.gsi.gov.uk

The Lord Chancellor Liz Truss said: “The involvement of lay people - recruited from a cross-section of our society - is a central principle in the administration of justice. It helps safeguard our citizens, with crucial decisions affecting an individual’s liberty being decided not by officials of the state - but by an independent bench of trained magistrates drawn from the local community. Our judiciary is amongst the most respected and independent in the world - part of a justice system that is widely admired at home and abroad.”