cambridgeshire magistrates

funded by the Cambridgeshire Branch of the Magistrates' Association

A message from the Cambridgeshire Bench Chairman

This website aims to improve communications between the public and magistrates (justices) in the local area and, in a restricted part of the website, to assist communication between the large number of justices sitting on the bench. I hope that you find the site informative and useful. No website can provide a comprehensive description of the work of a magistrate, how it feels to judge other members of the community, to finalise an adoption or to offer compensation to a victim of an assault.

Magistrates' courts are a key part of the criminal justice system and 95% of cases are completed here — only the most serious cases, where the sentence is likely to exceed six months' custody are sent to the Crown Court to be dealt with by a judge and jury. Magistrates' courts also deal with some civil cases, most importantly family court matters. For over 650 years Justices of the Peace have held courts in order to punish law breakers, resolve local disputes and keep order in the community.

Magistrates are appointed by the Crown and must retire by age 70. They are not paid but may claim expenses, and do not usually have any legal qualifications but undergo a substantial amount of training, principally on matters relating to procedure, bail and the basics of criminal law. There are around 18,000 in England and Wales of which approximately 150 are in Cambridgeshire.

Cases in the magistrates' courts are usually heard by a panel of three magistrates (Justices of the Peace) supported by a qualified Legal Advisor. The magistrates are collectively called a Bench and although assigned to a local area, they have a jurisdiction covering England and Wales.

Cambridgeshire Magistrates come from all walks of life: the Bench currently has nurses and doctors, fire-fighters and secretaries, taxi drivers and househusbands to name just a few. The Bench currently is 51 percent female and ranges in age from mid twenties upwards (although anyone can apply to become a magistrate at 18). It is important that the balance of the bench is maintained, with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. We work with one District Judge (Magistrates' Courts) who is a professional, full-time magistrate - he sits alone, but has the same powers as the three lay magistrates.

Across Cambridgeshire we work from three courthouses, at Cambridge, Huntingdon and Peterborough. We deal with a great variety of cases including young offenders, private and public family law cases, and have a specialist domestic violence panel dealing with a growing workload. The considerable experience of lay magistrates is brought to bear in trying to arrive at a just outcome in every case. Magistrates must decide:

Cambridgeshire magistrates are part of the local community that we serve and in which we live and work. We have an active schedule of presentations to community groups, schools and colleges under the "Magistrates in the Community" programme and work with the Magistrates' Association and community justice forum to host the annual schools' competition.

If you would like more information about the role of a magistrate, how to apply to become one or how courts operate, there are links on this site to other sources of information. Even better, come and see one of our adult courts in action in Peterborough, Huntingdon or Cambridge. You will be very welcome.

Ian Balmer JP