Key facts about Magistrates

  • There are 23,500 magistrates in England and Wales, who sit across adult, youth and family courts.
  • Over half serving magistrates are over the age of 60, although the starting age is 18 years.
  • Magistrates’ courts deal with around 19 out of every 20 defendants in criminal cases annually.
  • Magistrates sit, usually in three.  Each having an equal voice in the decision but only the trained an appointed “chair” speaks to the court.
  • A defendant in a Youth Court can be sentenced to a Detention and Training Order (served half in custody, half in the community) with a maximum length of 24 months (12 months custody, 12 months supervision). Children appear in the Crown Court under the following circumstances: when charged with homicide; when subject to a statutory minimum sentence; when charged with a grave crime for which a sentence beyond the powers of the Youth Court would be available (i.e. more than 24 months); when charged together with an adult offender; or if a sentence under the dangerous offender provisions is likely to be needed.
  • The role of the magistrate came about in 1361, when the Justices of Peace Act introduced the concept of members of the community being given powers to administer justice.
  • Magistrates are required to undertake specific training before taking on their role, and continue to receive training throughout their service. Once a magistrate is sworn in, they undertake 3 days of core training before sitting. They receive regular training thereafter to maintain competence throughout their service, and are also appraised every 3 years.
  • Magistrates have the power to sentence criminals to up to six months in prison and issue fines of up to £5,000.
  • The average cost per sitting day estimates are based on HMCTS Finance data for direct court and judicial near cash costs. They refer to 2010/11 figures and are up-rated to 2013/14 prices.
  • In 2012, 1.48 million defendants were proceeded against in the magistrates’ courts and around 88,000 defendants were tried in the crown court.
  • Recent guidance from the Senior Presiding Judge encouraged magistrates to play a wider role in scrutinising out of court disposals.
  • Magistrates sit with a Judge or Recorder at Crown Court to hear and decide appeals against conviction from magistrates courts.   Each have an equal voice in the decision but only the Judge speaks to the court.
  • The Government is employing paid District Judges who replace magistrates. Paid District Judges (MC) sit alone and decide guilt innocence and the sentence.

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