If you are between 18 and 74, then yes, you can. You do not need a legal degree (in fact, no formal qualifications are required) to apply, but intelligence, common sense and integrity are key attributes.
Also known as justices of the peace, magistrates are appointed from their local community, and work voluntarily for a minimum of 13 days per year. 95% of criminal cases are seen in magistrate courts, with magistrates sitting on a bench of three and deciding on offences which carry prison sentences (of up to a year), fines or community sentences.They are instrumental in creating positive changes in their community.
To do this successfully, magistrates:
• Understand and appreciate the different perspectives of the community
• Make fair and impartial transparent decisions
• Communicate with sensitivity and respect
• Are self-aware and open to learning
• Work and engage with people professionally
Once your application has been accepted, you will need to provide two references and attend an interview, where you will be asked to discuss various situations that you could encounter in court. Once you’ve been appointed, your first year will be spent training under a mentor, becoming familiar with criminal law and procedure, and sitting in on court sessions.
Richard Hay, who many Tandridge residents will also know as Ridge Radio’s DJ Ricardo, was appointed as a magistrate in 1994 at the age of 37 and has worked at Croydon Magistrates Court for 29 years. In October 2022 he also became a diversity and community relations magistrate, a role which aims to help progression towards a more diverse and inclusive judiciary:
“When I started at Croydon, I had a few colleagues from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, but around 98% of the magistrates there were white, which meant the bench wasn't reflecting the diversity of the population of the area. People will have increased confidence in the judicial system if they see a broad range of ages and ethnicities on the bench.”
As of April 2022, 14% of magistrates in England and Wales are from a minority ethnic background, with this rising to approximately 30% in London. 79% are over 50 years old. Richard hopes to encourage younger people from underrepresented groups to consider becoming magistrates through events such as talks at schools and community groups:
“We want to demonstrate that anybody can become a magistrate: there are people like you on benches across the country, and you could join them. It’s an opportunity to make a difference.”
Richard is also keen to stress another positive aspect of becoming magistrate:
“It can really help your career. The skills you develop as a magistrate – decision making, effective listening, critical thinking, flexibility, commitment and resilience – are all transferable skills, skills for senior management roles. When I was appointed as a magistrate I was a team leader at Lambeth Council, and I am sure everything I learned in court helped my advance to assistant director. So business owners who support employees to become magistrates will benefit from their insight and experiences.”
To find out more, and apply, at icanbeamagistrate.co.uk.
(Above: Richard Hay JP, diversity and community relations magistrate for London)