Some 30 000 Justices of the Peace sit in a thousand or so Magistrates'
Courts all over the country, and nearly 300 in Bristol alone. They are
appointed by the Lord Chancellor on the recommendation of local
committees consisting largely of existing magistrates. This process
gives rise to the criticism - perhaps justified - that the selection
procedures tend to favour the appointment of new magistrates whose
views are compatible with existing members'.
Magistrates must be aged between 27 and 65 at the time of appointment
(though very few in fact are under 40); they must be British, Irish or
Commonwealth citizens; they must be in good health (sufficient to
enable them to do the job); and they must live within or close to the
area served by the court to which they are appointed. They must have
satisfactory hearing, but in 1998 the Lord Chancellor appointed the
first blind magistrate for over 50 years, and several other blind
people have been appointed subsequently.
According to an official handout from the Lord Chancellor's
Department, the key qualities sought in those applying to be
magistrates are as follows:
Good character: 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: Ability to understand documents,
identify and comprehend relevant facts, and follow evidence and
arguments - ability to concentrate - ability to communicate
Social awareness: Appreciation and acceptance of the rule of law -
understanding of the local communities and society in general -
respect for people from different ethnic, cultural or social
backgrounds - experience of life beyond family, friends and work.
Maturity and sound temperament: Ability to relate to and work with
others - regard for the views of others - willingness to consider
advice - maturity - humanity - courage - firmness - decisiveness
confidence - a sense of fairness - courtesy.
Sound judgement: Common sense - ability to think logically, weigh
arguments and reach a balanced decision - openness of mind -
objectivity - the recognition and setting aside of prejudices.
Commitment and reliability: Reliability - commitment to serve the
community - willingness to undertake at least 26 and up to 35 half day
siftings a year - willingness to undertake the required training -
ability to offer requisite time - support of family and employer -
sufficiently good health.
Once appointed, magistrates are expected to sit for between 26 and 35
half-days each year - about once a fortnight on average, though many
do more - for a day or half a day at a time. They are not paid, but
can claim out-of-pocket expenses...