1. What magistrates do
Magistrates are volunteers who hear cases in courts in their community. They can hear cases in the criminal court, the family court, or both.
Each case is usually heard by 3 magistrates, including a magistrate who is trained to act as a chairperson.
A legal adviser in the court gives advice on the law and makes sure the magistrates follow the right procedures.
All criminal cases begin in a magistrates’ court.
Magistrates pass the most serious crimes (for example murder, rape and robbery) to the Crown Court. Magistrates decide if the defendant should be:
- kept in custody - for example in a police or court cell
- let out on strict conditions - for example to keep away from named places or people
Magistrates deal with crimes like:
- minor assaults
- motoring offences
- handling stolen goods
- TV licence evasion
Magistrates can give punishments such as:
- unpaid work in the community
- prison for up to 6 months (or up to 12 months for more than 1 crime)
Magistrates can also hear cases at a family court.
These magistrates deal with cases about children. They can:
- arrange for a child to be taken into care or put up for adoption
- help separated parents make arrangements for their children
- enforce child maintenance orders
- make court orders to prevent domestic abuse
These magistrates can get advice from the child’s guardian or a family court adviser during the case.