A public civil officer, invested with the executive government or some branch of it.

A king is the highest or first magistrate, as is the President of the United States of America.

The word is more particularly applied to subordinate officers, as governors, intendants, prefects, mayors, justice of the peace, and the like.

Because most of the East Coast laws and state governments were setup after being under a king, most of them have numerous individual protections from the government itself (which also tends to make them more Right Wing). One aspect that Virginia has that you won't find in a state west of the Mississippi is a Magistrate. When you are arrested by the police you appear before the Magistrate, who sets bail or decides that the police should've never arrested you in the first place. Sure other states do this too, but the Magistrate is not part of police as it is in most states. Thus you don't have the police checking the police. In fact, usually magistrates aren't even lawyers, but rather someone outside the system who has an objective view on the situation.

The placement of the Magistrate's bench at the head of the court emphasized the 'majesty of the law' to all present. It was elevated three steps to ensure that the seated Magistrate could not be dominated by the tallest person in the room. The height of the bench gave the Magistrate a clear view of the witness on his left, and the bar table directly in front of him. He sat beneath a tall wooden canopy and Royal Court of Arms, to show that his authority derived from the Crown. The distance of the Magistrate's bench from the prisoner's dock was deliberate. The court in summer was poorly ventilated, and one policeman described the prisoners as "a stinking mass of humanity." An air conditioning system was installed under the bench, and air ducts in each corner behind the bench cooled the precious, nay, celestially glowing skin of the Magistrate.

In the mid-19th century, more infamous cases usually required several legal officials at one bench. Prior to 1881, Magistrates heard cases, flanked by Justices of Peace, so the bench could be packed - thereby ensuring that certain decisions were made. After 1881, the Metropolitan Magistrates Act enabled Magistrates to hear cases alone. This increased the numbers of stipendiary Magistrates, and lessened the responsibilities of Justices of Peace, who were considered less legally competent.

In general terms magistrate has come to mean any public official with power, but specifically within the legal system of England and Wales it refers to a justice of the peace sitting in a magistrates' court, acting as judge who tries minor offenses. Which means that since justices of the peace have no other duties these days means that the two are virtually synonymous.

They are formally appointed by the Lord Chancellor, except within the Duchy of Lancaster where they are appointed by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. (There is no sane reason for this differentation; it's purely an historical anachronism that nobody can be bothered to change.)

There are two types of magistrate engaged within England and Wales

1) Stipendiary Magistrate

A full-time, legally qualified magistrate, that normally presides at a court in a major town or city where there is a heavy workload. There are less than a 100 stipendiary magistrates in England and Wales.

2) Lay Magistrate

A part-time unpaid volunteer magistrate, without any formal legal training of which there are some 28,000.

Hence the vast majority of presiding magistrates are of the lay variety. They are intended to be members of the local community, and these days the authorities take great pains to make sure they are representative of the community. Despite the lack of any requirment for formal qualifications, lay magistrates do receive specific training to perform their duties and whilst they don't get paid, they do receive allowances to cover travelling expenses and subsistence.

And yes, a stipendiary magistrate is indeed a justice of the peace.

Justices of the Peace Act 1997
Chapter 25 Part II Justices Of The Peace

Section 11 (2) A person so appointed to be a stipendiary magistrate in any commission area shall by virtue of his office be a justice of the peace for that area.

See http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1997/97025--c.htm

Mag"is*trate (?), n. [L. magistratus, fr. magister master: cf. F. magistrat. See Master.]

A person clothed with power as a public civil officer; a public civil officer invested with the executive government, or some branch of it.

"All Christian rulers and magistrates."

Book of Com. Prayer.

Of magistrates some also are supreme, in whom the sovereign power of the state resides; others are subordinate. Blackstone.


© Webster 1913.

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