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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

HM Revenue & Customs
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Summary proceedings: Officers of the magistrates' court

Magistrates (also known as Lay Justices)

Cases in the magistrates’ court are heard before ‘the bench’, which normally comprises

  • three or occasionally two magistrates, sitting together, who are drawn from the local community, or sometimes
  • a professional magistrate, who is a district judge and sits alone.

Magistrates make decisions after hearing the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defence. In civil actions for tax debts they will make orders for payment. They can question any of the parties to the action to clarify any point and will discuss any legal points of doubt with the clerk of the court.

You should address magistrates as ‘your worships’.

The clerk of the court, deputy clerk, or legal advisor is an experienced solicitor, barrister or holder of the Diploma in Law for Magistrates’ Court Clerks. The clerk generally sits in front of the magistrates in court and acts as their advisor on law, procedure and sentencing. In many courts the clerk may also

  • receive complaints
  • issue summonses
  • adjourn hearings by consent of all parties concerned
  • issue distress warrants.

Throughout this manual, ‘clerk’ or ‘clerk of the court’ is used as the generic term for the person who supplies legal advice in court.