World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000306902
Reproduction Date:

Title: Magistrate  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Arrest warrant, Justice of the peace, Judge, John Munro (loyalist), Trials since the 2000 Fijian coup d'état
Collection: Legal Professions
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Sir Lyman Poore Duff, a former judge of the Supreme Court of Canada
Names Judge, Justice of the Peace, magistrate
Occupation type
Activity sectors
Competencies Analytical mind, critical thinking, impartiality, common sense
Education required
Usually experience as an advocate (varies by jurisdiction)
Related jobs
Barrister, solicitor, prosecutor

A magistrate is an officer of the state. In modern usage, the term usually refers to lawyers who hear cases in tribunals. Formerly, in ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest ranking government officers and possessed both judicial and executive powers. Today, in common law systems, a magistrate has limited law enforcement and administration authority. In civil law systems, a magistrate may be a judge in a superior court, where the magistrates' court might have jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases. A related, but not always equivalent, term is chief magistrate which historically can denote a political and administrative officer.


  • Etymology 1
  • Original meaning 2
  • Continental Europe and its former colonies 3
  • Mexico 4
  • English common law tradition 5
    • United Kingdom 5.1
      • England and Wales 5.1.1
      • Scotland 5.1.2
    • Australia 5.2
      • Federal Magistrate 5.2.1
      • State Magistrate 5.2.2
    • Hong Kong 5.3
    • India 5.4
    • New Zealand 5.5
    • United States 5.6
      • Federal courts 5.6.1
      • State courts 5.6.2
  • Other traditions 6
    • People's Republic of China 6.1
    • Switzerland 6.2
    • Taiwan 6.3
  • In popular culture 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Magistrate derives from the Middle English word magistrat, denoting a "civil officer in charge of administrating laws" (c.1374); from the Old French magistrat; from the Latin magistratus, which derives from magister (master), from the root of magnus (great).

Original meaning

In ancient Rome, the word magistratus referred to one of the highest offices of state, and analogous offices in the local authorities such as municipium, which were subordinate only to the legislature of which they generally were members, often even ex officio, and often combined judicial and executive power, together constituting one jurisdiction. In Rome itself, the highest magistrates were members of the so-called cursus honorum -'career of honors'. They held both judicial and executive power within their sphere of responsibility (hence the modern use of the term "magistrate" to denote both judicial and executive officers), and also had the power to issue ius honorarium, or magisterial law. The Consul was the highest Roman magistrate. The Praetor (the office was later divided into two, the Urban and Peregrine Praetors) was the highest judge in matters of private law between individual citizens, while the Curule Aediles, who supervised public works in the city, exercised a limited civil jurisdiction in relation to the market.[1] Roman magistrates were not lawyers, but were advised by jurists who were experts in the law.

The term was maintained in most feudal successor states to the western Roman Empire, mainly Germanic kingdoms, especially in city-states, where the term magistrate was also used as an abstract generic term, denoting the highest office, regardless of the formal titles (e.g. Consul, Mayor, Doge), even when that was actually a council. The term "chief magistrate" applied to the highest official, in sovereign entities the head of state and/or head of government.

Continental Europe and its former colonies

Under the civil law systems of European countries such as Belgium, France and Italy, magistrat (French) or magistrato (Italian) is a generic term which comprises both prosecutors and judges (distinguished as 'standing' versus 'sitting' magistrature). It should be noted that the legal systems of these countries are not identical, and thus show some relevant differences in the judiciary organization.

In Portugal, besides being used in the scope of the judiciary to designate prosecutors and judges, the term magistrado was also used to designate certain government officials, like the former civil governors of district. These were referred as "administrative magistrates" to distinguish them from the judiciary magistrates. The President of Portugal is considered the Supreme Magistrate of the Nation.

In Finland, maistraatti (the Finnish-language cognate of "magistrate", officially translated as "local register office"[2]) is a state-appointed local administrative office whose responsibilities include keeping population information and public registers, acting as a public notary and conducting civil marriages.


In Mexico a Magistrado (magistrate), is a superior judge (and the highest-ranking State judge) hierarchically beneath the Supreme Court Justices (Ministros de la Corte Suprema) in the Federal Law System. The magistrado reviews the cases seen by a judge in a second term, if any of the parties disputes the verdict. For special cases, there are magistrados superiores (superior magistrates) who review the verdicts of special court and tribunal magistrates.

English common law tradition

United Kingdom

England and Wales

In the courts of England and Wales, magistrates—also known as justices of the peace (JPs)—hear prosecutions for and dispose of 'summary offences' and some 'triable-either-way offences' by making orders with regard to and placing additional requirements on offenders. Magistrates/JP's can only sentence for six months for one offence and twelve months consecutively, they can also give a maximum of a £5,000 fine; community orders which can include curfews, electronic tagging, requirements to perform unpaid work up to 300 hours or supervision up to three years and or various other options. In more serious cases, magistrates send 'either-way' offenders to the Crown Court for sentencing when, in the opinion of the magistrates, a penalty greater than can be given in the magistrates' court is warranted. A wide range of other legal matters are within the remit of magistrates. In the past, magistrates have been responsible for granting licences to sell alcohol, for instance,[3] but this function is now exercised by local councils though there is a right of appeal to the magistrates' court. Magistrates are also responsible for granting search warrants to the police and some other authorities, therefore it used to be a requirement that they live within a 15-mile (24 km) radius of the area they preside over (the commission area) in case they are needed to sign a warrant out-of-hours. However, commission areas were replaced with Local Justice Areas by the Courts Act 2003, meaning magistrates no longer need to live within 15 miles (24 km), although, in practice, many still do. Section 7 of the Courts Act 2003 states that "There shall be a commission of the peace for England and Wales— . . . b) addressed generally, and not by name, to all such persons as may from time to time hold office as justices of the peace for England and Wales". Thus every magistrate in England and Wales may act as a magistrate anywhere in England or Wales.

There are two types of magistrates[4] in England and Wales: justices of the peace and district judges (formerly known as stipendiary magistrates) who hold office as members of the professional judiciary. Justices of the peace sit voluntarily, apart from an allowance being paid for loss of earnings, mileage and subsistence (which are at a standardised rate agreed by the Ministry of Justice). According to requirements, around 50% of them are women. Over 41% of magistrates are retired from employment while others may be self-employed or able to arrange leave from their employment.

No formal qualifications are required but magistrates need intelligence, common sense, integrity and the capacity to act fairly. Membership is widely spread throughout the area covered and drawn from all walks of life. Police officers, traffic wardens and members of the armed forces, as well as their close relatives will not be appointed, nor will those convicted of certain criminal offences including recent minor offences. All magistrates receive a 3-day training before sitting, carried out in conjunction with a mentoring program (mentors are magistrates with at least 3 years' service),[5] which covers basic law and procedure and then continue to receive training throughout their judicial career. Additional training is given to magistrates choosing to sit in the Youth Court, or those dealing with family matters. New magistrates sit with mentors on at least six occasions during their first eighteen months.

Magistrates are unpaid appointees but they may receive allowances to cover travelling expenses, subsistence and loss of earnings for those not paid by their employer whilst sitting as a magistrate up to £116.78 a day. A Justice of the Peace may sit at any magistrates' court in England & Wales but in practice, are appointed to their local bench, (a colloquial and legal term for the local court), and are provided with advice, especially on sentencing, by a legally qualified Clerk to the Justices. They will normally sit as a panel of three with two as a minimum. Many are members of the Magistrates' Association, which provides advice, training and represents the approximately 28,000 magistrates to the Government. The Association also represents magistrates on the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

The second group are known as District Judges (Magistrates' Courts). Unlike magistrates, District Judges (Magistrates' Courts) sit alone. They are appointed by open competition through a process administered by the JAC and are required to be qualified solicitors, barristers or chartered legal executives. Some also sit in the family court. Questions have been raised by the Magistrates' Association as to the legal safeguards of a single District Judge allowed to hear a case, decide the outcome and pass sentence without reference to another party.[6]


In Scotland, the lowest level of law-court, the Justice of the Peace Court, is presided over by a Justice of the Peace. The office of stipendiary magistrate was established by the District Courts (Scotland) Act 1975,[7] and is due to be abolished by the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014.[8] Stipendiary magistrates are, ex officio, justices of the peace, and when sitting in a JP court also have the summary criminal jurisdiction and powers of a sheriff.[9]


Federal Magistrate

A Federal Magistrate occupies an office created in 1999. The Federal Magistrates' Court of Australia deals with more minor Commonwealth law matters which had previously been heard by the Federal Court (administrative law, bankruptcy, consumer protection, trade practices, human rights and copyright) or the Family Court (divorce, residence (or custody) and contact (or access) of the children, property division upon divorce, maintenance and child support). The court's name is misleading, in that it exercises a jurisdiction well in excess of that of the state magistrates' courts, and similar to that of the District and County courts of the Australian states.

The Federal and Family Courts continue, but the Federal Magistrates hear shorter or less complex matters or matters in which the monetary sum in disputes does not exceed given amounts. For instance property divisions where the total assets are A$700,000 or less and consumer law matters (trade practices) where the amount claimed is less than $750,000. However, in some areas, such as bankruptcy and copyright, the court has unlimited jurisdiction.

The Federal Magistrates’ Court has assumed a significant part of the work load of the two superior courts. By 2004/05 the court was dealing with 73% of the total number of applications made in the three courts (see the Annual Report of the Federal Magistrates' Court 2004/2005).

State Magistrate

The State Magistrates in Australia derive from the English Magistrates. All Magistrates are salaried officers.

The jurisdiction of the magistrates varies from state to state. They preside over courts which are, depending on the state, called Magistrates’ Courts, Local Courts or Courts of Petty Sessions.

Magistrates hear bail applications, motor licensing applications, applications for orders restraining a given individual from approaching a specific person (“intervention orders” or “apprehended violence orders”), summary criminal matters, the least serious indictable criminal matters, and civil matters where the disputed amount does not exceed A$40,000 to A$100,000 (depending on the State).

In some states, such as Queensland and NSW, the Magistrate may appear robed, although some Magistrates are known to prefer a business suit. Magistrates presiding in the Koori Court (which deals with Aboriginal defendants) were originally of a mind not to appear robed; however elders within the Indigenous community urged Magistrates to continue wearing robes to mark the solemnity of the court process to defendants. Robing is being considered for Magistrates in other states; however, neither Counsel nor solicitors appear robed in any Australian Magistrates' court. Robing in summary courts is unlikely to extend to the legal profession.

Historically Magistrates in Australia have been referred to as “Your Worship”. (From Old English weorthscipe, meaning being worthy of respect.) However, members of the magistracy are now addressed as "Your Honour" in all states. This was partly to recognise the increasing role magistrates play in the administration of justice, but also to recognise the archaic nature of "Your Worship" and the tendency for witnesses and defendants to incorrectly use "Your Honour" in any event. It is also acceptable to address a magistrate simply as Sir or Madam.

Hong Kong

There are currently seven magistrates' courts in Hong Kong. Magistrates exercise criminal jurisdiction over a wide range of offences. Although there is a general limit of two years' imprisonment or a fine of HK$100,000, certain statutory provisions give Magistrates the power to sentence up to three years' imprisonment and to impose a fine up to HK$5,000,000.


There are four categories of magistrates in Judiciary of India. This classification is given in the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC). It stipulates that in each sessions district, there shall be:

1.Chief Judicial Magistrate[CJM] includes Additional Chief Judicial magistrates also. They hear all type of criminal cases. All magistrates' courts are controlled by CJM. He look the work of judicial Magistrates but he can't take any action against judicial magistrates. Only he report the misbehavior of judicial magistrates to High court. A court of Chief Judicial Magistrates can sentence a person to jail up to seven-ten years and impose fines up to 30000 (US$450). He is Senior among all Magistrates in district including District Magistrates and the most powerful magistrate.

2.There is a Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate (SDJM) in every subdivision. They hear the case related to dwori act, EC act and other criminal cases. He also maintained and controlled judicial court below it. A court of Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrates sentences a person up to seven-ten years and impose fine up to 25000 (US$380). Judicial magistrates can try criminal cases.

3.A Judicial Magistrate First Class can sentence a person to jail for up to five-seven Years and impose a fine of up to 15000 (US$230). There are in each District the following kinds of Judicial Magistrates:

  • one Chief Judicial Magistrate [CJM]
  • one or Two Additional Chief Judicial Magistrates [ACJM]
  • one or Two Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrates [SDJM]
  • Five Judicial Magistrates 1st class [JM]

An Executive Magistrate is an officer of the Executive branch (as opposed to the Judicial branch) who is invested with specific powers under both the CrPC and the Indian Penal Code (IPC). These powers are conferred by Sections 107-110, 133, 144, 145, and 147 of the CrPC. These officers cannot try any accused nor pass verdicts. A person arrested on the orders of a court located outside the local jurisdiction should be produced before an Executive Magistrate who can also set the bail amount for the arrested individual to avoid police custody, depending on the terms of the warrant. The Executive Magistrate also can pass orders restraining persons from committing a particular act or preventing persons from entering an area (Section 144CrPC). There is no specific provision to order a "curfew". The Executive Magistrates alone are authorized to use force against people. In plain language, they alone can disperse an "unlawful assembly". Technically, the police is to assist the Executive Magistrate. They can direct the police about the manner of force (baton charge/ tear gas/blank fire/firing) and also how much force should be used. They can also take the assistance of the Armed Forces to quell a riot.

There are, in each Revenue District (as opposed to a Sessions District) the following kinds of Executive Magistrates:

  • One District Magistrate (DM)
  • Two or more Additional District Magistrates (ADM)
  • Three or more Subdivisional District Magistrates (SDM)and
  • at least Ten Executive Magistrates

All the Executive Magistrates of the district, except the ADM, are under the control of the DM.

These magistracies are normally conferred on the officers of the Revenue Department, although an officer can be appointed exclusively as an Executive Magistrate. Normally, the Collector of the district is appointed as the DM. Similarly, the Sub-Collectors are appointed as the SDMs. Tahsildars and Deputy/Additional Tahsildars are appointed as Executive Magistrates.

Under the old CrPC, there was no distinction between the Executive and Judicial Magistrates; some states still follow the old CrPC.

New Zealand

The position of stipendiary magistrate in New Zealand was renamed in 1980 to that of district court judge. The position was often known simply as magistrate, or the postnominal initials SM after a magistrate's name in newspapers' court reports.

In the late 1990s, a position of community magistrate was created for district courts on a trial basis; two community magistrates were initially required to sit to consider a case. Some of these community magistrates are still serving.

United States

Magistrates are somewhat less common in the United States than in Europe, but the position does exist in some jurisdictions.

The term "magistrate" is often used (chiefly in judicial opinions) as a generic term for any independent judge who is capable of issuing warrants, reviewing arrests, etc.[10][11] When used in this way it does not denote a judge with a particular office. Instead, it denotes (somewhat circularly) a judge or judicial officer who is capable of hearing and deciding a particular matter. That capability is defined by statute or by common law. In Virginia, for example, the Constitution of 1971 created the office of magistrate to replace the use in cities and counties of the justice of the peace, which is common in many states for this function.

As noted above, the terms "magistrate" or "chief magistrate" were sometimes used in the early days of the republic to refer to the

Federal courts

In the United States federal courts, a magistrate judge is a judicial officer authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 631 et seq. They were formerly known as U.S. commissioners, and then as magistrates. Magistrate judges, as they have been designated since 1990, are appointed by the life-term federal district judges of a particular court, serving terms of eight years if full-time, or four years if part-time, and may be reappointed. Magistrate judges conduct a wide range of judicial proceedings to expedite the disposition of the civil and criminal caseloads of the United States district courts. Congress set forth in the statute the powers and responsibilities that could be delegated by district court judges to magistrate judges. To achieve maximum flexibility in meeting the needs of each court, however, Congress left to the individual courts the actual determination of which duties to assign to magistrate judges.

State courts

In many Georgia, magistrates are elected and not appointed.

Other traditions

People's Republic of China

Magistrate, or chief magistrate, is also a common translation of the Chinese xianzhang (县长/縣長 literally: county leader) the political head of a county or xiàn (县/縣) which ranks in the third level of the administrative hierarchy of the People's Republic of China. The translation dates from imperial China in which the county magistrate was the lowest official in the imperial Chinese bureaucracy and had judicial in addition to administrative functions.

In modern-day China, the county leader is technically elected by the local people's congress but in fact is appointed by the Communist Party. Although there have been some elections at the lower township level, these elections (with one exception, which was considered irregular and illegal) have not extended up to the county level. Although not an important official, county leaders, particularly in rural areas, can sometimes have a strong impact on the lives of ordinary people by enforcing central government regulations or by turning a blind eye to their violation.


In Switzerland, magistrate is a designation for the persons holding the most senior executive and judicial offices. On the federal level, the members of the Federal Council, the Federal Chancellor and the judges on the Federal Supreme Court are called magistrates.[12] The designation of magistrate is not a title or style. It does not, by itself, confer any particular privileges.


In Taiwan, magistrates are the heads of government of counties. The county magistrate elections are heavily and sometimes bitterly contested, and are often a stepping-stone to higher office. County magistrate elections were first open to election in the 1960s and, before the end of martial law in 1991, were the highest elected position of any real power and hence the focus of election campaigns by the Tangwai movement.

In popular culture

  • British humourist P.G. Wodehouse wrote in one of his Jeeves and Wooster stories, "Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit" (1955), "Well, you know what magistrates are. The lowest form of pond life. When a fellow hasn't the brains and initiative to sell jellied eels, they make him a magistrate." Bertie Wooster often appeared before magistrates when he was arrested for minor offenses.
  • A plump and foolish magistrate is a key character in Amy Tan's children's book (and the related PBS television show) Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat.
  • In the post-colonial novel Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee, the story is told from the narrative perspective of the magistrate of one of the settlements in what is presumed to be Africa.
  • In the Walt Disney movie Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, Davy is appointed magistrate of the local community.
  • Magistrates appear in the Star Trek universe as well. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Constable Odo often threatens detainees or those he suspects are guilty of various crimes and violations that he will send them to the magistrate, or tells them sarcastically, in response to their pleas of innocence, to "Tell it to the magistrate."
  • In the first installment of the popular Starcraft real-time strategy series, one plays as a magistrate working for the Confederacy, a cruel government. One later joins the Sons of Korhal, aiding in the rebellion.

See also


  1. ^ p4 and p18, Nicholas, Barry, An Introduction to Roman Law (Oxford University Press, 1975) ISBN 0-19-876063-9
  2. ^
  3. ^ Under a law of 1729 which instituted Brewster sessions, a special meeting of quarter sessions (Richardson, John (1974) The Local Historian's Encyclopedia. New Barnet: Historical Publications; p. 270; Hey, David, ed. (1996) The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History. Oxford University Press; pp. 46-47)
  4. ^ Courts and Tribunals Judiciary, Magistrates: who are they.... Retrieved: 4 January 2015.
  5. ^ The Magistracy and the work of magistrates
  6. ^ John Thornhill, Chairman of the Magistrates' Association - Solicitors Journal - April 2011
  7. ^ District Courts (Scotland) Act 1975, section 5.
  8. ^ Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, section 128.
  9. ^ District Courts (Scotland) Act 1975, section 3.
  10. ^ Education 2020 Homeschool Console; Government course - Vocabulary, "usage" section for magistrate: "The term, magistrate, is often used for any independent judge who is capable of issuing warrants and reviewing arrests."
  11. ^
  12. ^ See art. 1 of the Bundesgesetz über Besoldung und berufliche Vorsorge der Magistratspersonen, SR/RS 172.121.


  • EtymologyOnLine
  • Van Wert County, Ohio Court Personnel

External links

  • Become a magistrate (GOV.UK, England and Wales)
  • Criminal courts - magistrates' courts (GOV.UK, England and Wales)
  • How sentencing works: You be the Judge
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.