THE office of magistrate is an ancient position dating back to Liverpool’s days as a small fishing village. Richard I originally appointed ‘keepers of the peace’ to enforce the laws of the land but by the mid-14th century, the Justice of the Peace Act had come to fruition. This permitted every county to appoint members of the community with “power to restrain the Offenders, Rioters, and other Barators, and to pursue, arrest, take and chastise them according to their Trespass or Offence.”
Today we magistrates take a less physical role when volunteering our energies into the administration of justice, but we are still right at the heart of the process. We deal in summary justice with typical cases including such matters as motoring offences, theft, assaults and handling stolen goods; more serious offences are sent to the Crown Court.
When sitting on the bench we play a vital part in protecting our communities, however, many more are needed and right now Merseyside is seeking to appoint a whole host of new JPs to sit within its courts.
When discussing the role, it often surprises people to learn that magistrates are not required to have any legal qualifications, but must possess the ability to listen, weigh up evidence, reach logical conclusions and above all, have plenty of common sense. We do of course receive training and we are always guided in the ways of the law by national Sentencing Guidelines and a qualified legal advisor, but ultimately, the final decision is ours.
The time commitment isn’t too onerous. Magistrates are expected to offer at least 14 days a year and be aged between 18-70, but many are able to sit more when their schedule allows. By law, your employer must allow you time off work to serve as a magistrate. Many allow time off with pay, but if your payments are deducted, you may be eligible to claim an allowance in addition to travel and subsistence.
This year Merseyside is looking to recruit into the Criminal Court and for the first time ever, directly into the Family Court where magistrates have the opportunity to make life-changing decisions for families across the region. You may arrange for a child who needs to be protected to be taken into care, help separated parents make important contact arrangements, enforce maintenance orders or make court orders that seek to prevent domestic violence. No two days are ever the same and you will have the chance to make a real difference in improving the lives of young people and their families.
There is no stereotypical magistrate and we come from all sorts of backgrounds. Here in Merseyside we have teachers, NHS staff, university students, local government workers, lawyers, customer service staff, retirees, and even a deep-sea diver (plus many more). The diverse experiences of our JPs reflect real life society and the decisions made in court, but do be sure to check for potential conflicts of interest listed on the official government website.
Applications for the Criminal Court are being accepted indefinitely whilst those seeking to sit in the Family Court have until September 30 to apply.
If you feel you have what it takes and want to find out more, check out www.gov.uk/become-magistrate/apply-to-be-a-magistrate and follow @Cheshmerseymag on Twitter or on Facebook.