Top Five Myths About Being A Magistrate
Over the last three and a half years, I have had the privilege of sitting as a Justice of the Peace, also known as a magistrate. I sit in the Adult Criminal Court as well as the Family Court and, I have to say, it has been one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made.
Sitting as a magistrate has widened my understanding of the diverse issues in my community (and beyond), and has allowed me to take steps to tackle some of them through the courts, using the powers granted to me. By the way, tackling these issues is not always about punishment, but also rehabilitation and reintegration.
Myths About Magistrates
For the last three years, I have served my community in various voluntary capacities. However, I was completely unaware of the great work an army of thousands of men and women, across the country, were doing in their local communities as magistrates. The reason for this was because of the myths I believed about being a magistrate. So, I want to dispel some of these myths.
Myth #1 – You need a legal background
This is not the case at all, and there is no requirement to have any legal background, experience or training. In fact, magistrates come from diverse backgrounds. My peers include teachers, carpenters, consultants, business owners, IT experts, street traders and more. What the judiciary look for are specific qualities and competencies, which they identify via the recruitment process.
Myth #2 – You could mistakenly sentence someone incorrectly
It is amazing the number of people who fear they may end up wrongly sending someone to prison. This is unlikely for a number of reasons. Firstly, you receive training. Secondly, the sentencing of offences is done using Sentencing Guidelines and a judicial sentencing decision-making structure. Thirdly, there are three magistrates sitting on the bench, and all form part of the decision-making process. Lastly, we have a Legal Adviser (aka Legal Clerk) to guide you on matters of the law. So you have support to ensure the right sentence is passed.
Myth #3 – You cannot be a magistrate if you have a religious faith
The magistracy welcomes people of all backgrounds and faiths between the ages of 18 and 65. Whilst holding a particular faith is in no way a barrier to entry, what is of great importance is ensuring magistrates, faith or no faith, do not display any bias or prejudice that would affect justice being served.
Myth #4 – You get paid as a magistrate
Magistrates are not paid. They are considered unpaid officers of the Court. However, you can claim travel expenses and subsistence. There is also a provision made for those self-employed who need recruit cover for when they sit in court.
Myth #5 – You have to give up a lot of your time to sit as a magistrate
The requirement for magistrates in the UK is 13 full days or 26 half days a year. The rota is set at least six months ahead, and you indicate when you are available to sit. If you work for a company, speak to your employer, as several companies consider the valuable work magistrates do a part of their corporate responsibility.
Your country needs you
Believe it or not, magistrates sit on 95% of cases that come to court in the UK. As of today, there is a national shortage of magistrates, so if you are looking for a way to serve your community, I would ask you to consider this prestigious role. You can find out more at www.gov.uk/become-magistrate.
I also offer virtual support/mentoring through my growing community of aspiring magistrates. Visit www.gladysf.com/becomeamagistrate to download my FREE eBook, How To Become A Magistrate.
In closing, being a magistrate has been rewarding and a privilege to serve my community and country. I highly recommend it. You won’t regret it.
Written by Grace Gladys Famoriyo, Author, Speaker and Justice of the Peace. Find out more www.gladysf.com/becomeamagistrate