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What is a Magistrate?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A magistrate is someone who has the authority to enforce laws, typically within a limited jurisdiction such as a province or county. The exact role of a magistrate within the legal system varies, depending on the nation which he or she serves. In some cases, for example, a magistrate is a judge who serves at a very high level, while in other instances a magistrate is simply a justice of the peace, charged with enforcing minor infractions.

The word is derived from the Latin magister, which means “master.” Around the Middle Ages, the term “magistrat” emerged in English, referring to a civil officer charged with enforcing the law, and in 1374, the modern form of the word emerged. The underlying concept of a magistrate is quite ancient; the Romans, for example, had civil officers much like our modern magistrates.

As a general rule, a magistrate handles minor infractions like petty theft, traffic violations, and similar small crimes with very set and clear punishments. By taking a caseload of less important crimes, magistrates free up judges in higher ranks of the judicial system, allowing them to focus on more complex cases. This also makes the legal system more efficient, by ensuring that trials can be held reasonably quickly.

Typically, a magistrate has authority in the district in which he or she works, but no jurisdiction beyond this point. Magistrates can send people to jail, assess fines for various crimes, dismiss cases, release people on bail, and perform an assortment of similar legal tasks. They can also preside over trials, hear evidence, and discuss the legal ramifications of various cases with legal professionals like lawyers.

The job requirements to become a magistrate vary, again depending on the region in which he or she works. Some sort of education such a bachelor's degree is typically required, along with interest in and knowledge of the law. Magistrates must also be able to sit in justice fairly and without prejudice, handing down appropriate sentences for various infractions and ensuring that the law is enforced uniformly and appropriately.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon984413 — On Jan 08, 2015

So is a magistrate the same thing as a judge?

By anon72486 — On Mar 23, 2010

Put my car in the shop was given a price to fix the vehicle for $300 - check to see if valves are bent or does it need a water pump and new timing belt. If valves are bent I would have a friend fix that and return to the shop to put back on vehicle.

A new timing kit was installed with my permission then he put the car back together and said that the valves are bent and now he wants me to pay him $500 to take the heads off and then put them back on.

I was told in the beginning that the $300 would cover labor and that I would either supply the parts or allow him to get the parts. I let him get the timing kit ($260.00) and I am willing to pay that and the $300 to totally fix the car.

He never had me sign a contract or anything. I do not feel that I should have to pay even the $300 because the car is not fixed let alone the extra $500.

Tell me: do I have a case? What should I do? Please answer ASAP!

By anon48800 — On Oct 15, 2009

Advantages are trial by peers, open system of justice, public confidence, limited appeals, must give reason for decision, cheaper than crown court, chosen to be there. Only giving you the advantages, as you should find this yourself.

By anon44921 — On Sep 11, 2009

my mom always taught me that you're a magistrate if you're a citizen of the USA because here in the US we can be anything we want to be. this article is nice but that piece of information should be added because many a person will read this and think that have no authority in the working world. just saying. advantages of the magistrate court? disadvantages? answers, please!

By anon22034 — On Nov 26, 2008

advantages and disadvantages of magistrate court?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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