The office of Justices of the Peace was first established over 600
years ago with the Justices of the Peace Act 1361 and Justices of the
Peace or Lay Magistrates are essential to our legal system and try (or
least deal with in some respect) 93% of all criminal cases and also
perform an important function with regard to some civil areas.
The role of the magistrates can be listed as follows:-
Ø Trying summary offences
Ø Trying offences triable either way where the accused elects for
Ø Holding committal proceedings where the offence is TEW and the
accused elects for jury trial.
Ø Issuing summons, issuing search warrants and warrants for arrest.
Ø Dealing with applications for bail
Ø Dealing with applications for legal aid in criminal cases
Ø Dealing with applications for licences such as firearms and liquor
Ø Dealing with certain domestic matters such as maintenance orders
Ø Trying offences committed by youths in the Youth Court.
Lay magistrates are appointed by the Minister of Constitutional
Affairs on behalf of the Crown on the advice of a local advisory
committee. These committees may either approach people or you can
apply to become a magistrate.
You must be under the age of 65 and must live within 15 miles of the
bench on which you will serve. The Ministry of Constitutional Affairs
has now issued a job description outlines the characteristics it is
felt that you need to be a magistrate but essentially it is still
considered that you should be considered an upstanding member of
Lay magistrates rarely have any experience of the law before they are
appointed (this is actually seen as one their advantages) and so it is
necessary to give them some training to enable them to understand the
nature of their duties, to give them an elementary knowledge of the
law and the rules of evidence and to understand something of the
nature and purpose of sentencing.
This training tends to be 2 or 3 afternoon training sessions and
within the first 12 months of being appointed they must attend at
least 8 x 1.5 hour sessions usually run by the Justices’ Clerk. The
majority of their training though comes from observing other
magistrates and by actually doing the job. It should be noted though
that further courses are undertaken before the magistrate is appointed
to the Youth or Domestic Panel.
Retirement and Removal
At the age of 70, a magistrate is removed from the full list and
placed on the supplemental list. This can also occur at an earlier age
if it is considered necessary due to incapacity, infirmity or through
neglect – a magistrate must be prepared to sit at least 26 times per
A magistrate can be removed for...