HOW TO BECOME A MAGISTRATE

The role of a Magistrate is an extremely important on in today's society. You will have a tremendous amount of power and a responsibility to carry out your duties in a proficient and professional manner. During this video and article we will explore what it takes to become a Magistrate in England and Wales.

HOW TO BECOME A MAGISTRATE ARTICLE


Advisory Committees on the Appointment of Magistrates must assess applicants against what are known as the ‘Six Key Qualities’. These are set out in the notes accompanying application forms and are as follows:

Good character

 

What type of character do you think you need to have in order to become a magistrate? You must be honest and possess a high level of integrity. Before you are offered a position as magistrate the assessing panel will ask for references. Each reference that you provide must be capable of vouching for your character. It is no use stating that you are honest, and a person of integrity, if it is not true. Your current or previous employer will usually be able to vouch for your character. As you can imagine, you must be able to respect confidentiality. Magistrates need to be trusted individuals as they are privy to much confidential information. It would not be acceptable as a magistrate to discuss cases or confidential information with your friends, family or strangers. As a magistrate you are trusted not to bring the magistracy into disrepute.

Consider the following key areas of this quality before making your application:

- Personal integrity
- Respect and trust of others
- Respect for confidences
- Absence of any matter which might bring them or the magistracy into disrepute
- Willingness to be circumspect in private, working and public life.

Understanding and communication

Magistrates must be able to communicate effectively both in writing and verbally. They must also have a strong ability to understand, read and interpret written documents, and also extract relevant facts that will assist them in dealing with the case in hand. Throughout the selection process you will be assessed on your ability to achieve this important personal quality.

Consider the following key areas of this quality before making your application:

- Ability to understand documents
- Identify and comprehend relevant facts
- Follow evidence and arguments
- Ability to concentrate
- Ability to communicate effectively

Social awareness

Having an understanding of society is crucial to the role of a magistrate. You must also understand and have respect for diversity and people from different cultures and social backgrounds. Ask yourself the following question – “Do I understand my local community?” If the answer is yes, then you are well on the way to being capable of demonstrating this quality during the selection process. If the answer is no, then now is the right time to learn. Take a look at the following definition of diversity:

‘The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognising our individual differences.  These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.’

HOW TO BECOME A MAGISTRATE

 

Consider the following key areas of this quality before making your application:

- Appreciation and acceptance of the Rule of Law (this is the fundamental principle that no one is above the law and that everyone is subject to it in equal measure)
- Understanding of society in general
- Respect for people from different ethnic, cultural or social backgrounds (and maybe some knowledge of ‘other communities’)
- Awareness and understanding of life beyond family, friends and work is highly desirable
- As is an understanding of your local community.

Maturity and sound temperament

All magistrates must have a good level of maturity and temperament. They must be capable of working with other people on a professional basis and understand that everybody has differing opinions. They must have respect for other people and their differences and be able to reach agreed solutions to problems. They must also be assertive when required, decisive and confident, be fair and have respect and courtesy for everyone.

Consider the following key areas of this quality before making your application:

- Ability to relate to and work with others
- Regard for the views of others
- Willingness to consider advice
- Humanity, firmness, decisiveness, confidence, a sense of fairness, courtesy.

Sound judgement

As a magistrate you must be capable of making sound judgements that are not based on your own personal feelings, prejudices or biased opinions. For example, if you have personally been the victim of burglary or theft previously, how would you feel if an offender was in front of you for a similar offence? Would you be inclined to pass down a tougher sentence, simply because you have been a victim before? Obviously the answer should be no and you should never be influenced by such external factors when sentencing individuals. Your judgements must be based on the facts of the case and also on your ability to think logically, objectively and with an open mind.

Consider the following key areas of this quality before making your application:

- Ability to think logically, weigh arguments and reach a balanced decision

- Openness of mind, objectivity, the recognition of and controlling of prejudices.

HOW TO BECOME A MAGISTRATE

 

Commitment and reliability

Because magistrates are not paid a salary then the role requires a high level of commitment and motivation. You need to be motivated for different reasons other than financial gain. A commitment to serve the community is obviously a must and you will be assessed against this desire during the selection process. If you have already worked within the community previously then this can work in your favour. Any form of voluntary work will demonstrate to the assessors that you are committed and motivated by other reasons other than financial reward.

For many people, the thought of becoming a magistrate is extremely appealing. However, once they start to carry out the role they soon realise that it requires a high level of commitment for sustained period of time. Make sure that you are fully aware of the commitment required to become a magistrate before you apply.

Why do you think you need to be reliable in order to become a magistrate? In the build up to court proceedings, a date and time for the case to be heard will be set. This can be weeks in advance. Therefore, it is crucial that you can be relied upon to commit to specific times and dates. Unless there is very good reason, such as illness or otherwise, you will not be able to phone in and cancel your attendance in court. It is extremely important that you can be relied upon to provide the minimum number of sittings per year. Whilst on this subject, you are required to commit to at least 26 half day sittings per year. That equates to one half day sitting every fortnight which is usually acceptable to most people.

In addition to the commitment to court sittings you must also be able to commit to the training that is required to become a competent magistrate.

Consider the following key areas of this quality before making your application:

- Reliability, commitment to serve the community, willingness to undertake at least 26 half day sittings a year (but possibly more in practice as mentioned earlier: although that is for your own information and you will not be pressed on it at this stage to commit above the basic requirement)

- Willingness to undertake the required training

- Ability to offer the requisite time

- Support of family and employer

- Sufficiently good health.

For most practical purposes these will be the only matters that Advisory Committees are required and permitted to assess. In the later sections on ‘First Interview’ and ‘Second Interview’ we will consider how and when the Advisory Committees assess these qualities and how you might best prepare yourself to give a demonstrably considered reply at interview.

Both in the magistrate application form and at both interviews you will also be asked what used to be called the ‘Key Question’ but is now known as the ‘Good Character and Background Question’.

HOW TO BECOME A MAGISTRATE


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