Aim of this page
Almost every criminal case in England and Wales begins in a Magistrates Court – and around 95% of all cases will be decided there. Therefore, the role of a magistrate is an important one.
The aim of this page is to set out the criteria for becoming a magistrate and how your criminal record may affect your chances of success.
This is part of our information on looking for (and keeping) employment and volunteering.
Why is this important?
Whilst people with convictions are not automatically barred from becoming a magistrate, there are few guidelines available which give any indication as to whether you would be able to.
Recently the Chair of the Magistrates’ Association said that “it was completely erroneous” that those with old and minor criminal records would not be considered as candidates. He urged people with a criminal record to apply but it’s important to have an understanding of the recruitment process.
What does it take to become a magistrate?
On a daily basis, magistrates make decisions that will shape the lives of individuals for years to come, and for the vast majority of those accused of a crime, the Magistrates Court will be their only sight of the criminal justice system.
Magistrates receive training to perform their role and no prior legal knowledge is assumed or required of them. It’s not necessary for them to take any formal examinations. They will require some ‘personal qualities’ including an awareness of social issues, maturity and reliability.
Crucially, magistrates are volunteers who work part-time, often around other full-time work commitments. Each year, magistrates must be in court for at least 13 full days (or 26 half-days) and although this can put a lot of people off, your employer does have a legal obligation (under the Employment Rights Act 1996) to permit you to take time off for magistrate duties. Rotas are provided in advance, so it shouldn’t be difficult to negotiate time off with your employer. Many will agree to pay you whilst you’re performing your magistrate duties but, if they choose not to, then a basic loss of earnings allowance may be available to you.
Training in the first year can be intense, but after this only one or two days a year will be required for your further development.
Becoming a magistrate with a criminal record
There must be nothing in a magistrate’s past which could cast doubt on their credibility and standing in the eyes of the public. While a criminal offence or civil order in the past will not necessarily disqualify you for appointment, the Senior Presiding Judge will not appoint anyone in whom the public would be unlikely to have confidence.”
The ‘good character’ question, which all applicants must answer on their application form and at interview asks:
Is there anything in your private or working life, past or present, or the lives of your family or friends, which could damage your credibility as a magistrate if it became known to the public?”
Being subject to current proceedings or investigations
You must declare:
- If you are currently subject to investigation by the police
- If you are currently involved in any form of civil or criminal court proceedings, including as a witness (this includes divorce proceedings where the custody of children is contested)
- If you are currently subject to professional disciplinary proceedings or disciplinary proceedings at work.
You should inform the Advisory Committee immediately if you become subject to any of the above during the selection process.
Cautions and convictions
Anybody applying to become a magistrate is not protected by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. This means that all cautions and convictions must be disclosed, however long ago they occurred.
A criminal record is not an automatic bar to appointment and if you are recommended for appointment, the Senior Presiding Judge will give careful consideration to factors such as the nature and seriousness of the offence, and when it occurred. A caution or conviction for an offence which raises questions of honesty and integrity, for example fraud or theft is liable to be taken more seriously.
When disclosing information about a caution or conviction, try to provide as much information as you can. The Advisory Committee will need this to help assess your suitability. If you are recommended for appointment, you will be required to undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check before your appointment can be confirmed.
How will the disclosure of a criminal record be dealt with?
Applications which disclose a criminal record will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and the following factors taken into consideration:
- The nature and seriousness of the offence
- How long ago it was committed
- The disposal or sentence received; and
- Any subsequent offences.
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice state that they will not appoint the following to the magistracy:
- Anyone who, or whose spouse or partner, has been convicted of a serious offence or a number of minor offences if the Advisory Committee does not think the public would have confidence in them as a magistrate. For these purposes a serious offence is regarded as anything other than a minor motoring conviction for which you received points on your licence and/or a fine.
- Anyone who has been convicted of one motoring offence where six penalty points or more were imposed, or three offences where three penalty points were imposed in respect of each offence, in the last five years.
- Anyone who has been disqualified from driving for 12 months or more will not be appointed within 10 years from the date of conviction, and then only after careful consideration of the circumstances.
- Anyone who has been disqualified from driving for less than 12 months will not be appointed within 5 years from the date of conviction, and then only after careful consideration of the circumstances.
The last three points relate specifically to people with driving convictions. The first point covers all other convictions. As a result, the decision is left solely within the hands of the Advisory Committee.
Cautions and convictions of family members
Guidance from the Ministry of Justice is keen to emphasise that the actions of another person in most cases will not mean that you are disqualified for appointment. However, they will be considered in line with the following:
- The nature and seriousness of the offence
- Your relationship with the individual, and the extent of your contact with that person
- Whether or not you appear to condone the offence; and
- Whether the circumstances could undermine your credibility and standing as a magistrate if they became known to the public.
Discuss this with others
Read and share your experiences on our online forum.
Key sections include:
Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.
- Disclosure and Barring Service – Responsible for carrying out criminal record checks in England and Wales
- ‘Become a magistrate’ – application form
- ‘Become a magistrate’ – application form guidance notes
- Magistrate Advisory Committee Recruitment Information
- For practical information – More information on looking for (and keeping) employment and volunteering
- To discuss this with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
- Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.
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