Magistrates' Court Legal Advisor

The Job and What's Involved

Magistrates' court legal advisers are responsible for giving legal advice to magistrates in magistrates' courts throughout England and Wales. They help magistrates to make decisions and state the legal reasons that underpin the decisions. They also advise all parties at court on points of law, practice and procedure.

Magistrates' courts deal with over 95 per cent of all criminal cases, together with some civil cases in adult, youth and family courts. Magistrates are volunteers who are not necessarily legally qualified. Court sessions may involve hearing trials, sentencing, bail conditions, road traffic cases, private prosecutions and fine enforcement.

Duties of a magistrates' court legal adviser may typically include:

  • Checking court papers, managing the court list and providing magistrates with a summary of cases prior to each session.
  • Explaining the purpose of a hearing before it starts, identifying the parties before the court and reading out any charges or summonses.
  • Managing the court room so that proceedings run efficiently.
  • Dealing with interruptions and delays in procedures and providing advice on the next steps to be taken.
  • Prioritising cases to make the best use of the court's time and ensuring that witnesses and defendants are dealt with promptly.
  • Assisting magistrates to evaluate evidence and formulate the reasons for legal decisions.
  • Making judicial decisions to progress a case.
  • Explaining process and procedure to those at court and assisting defendants who conduct their own defence to present their case.
  • Intervening in court proceedings to explain points of law, if necessary.
  • Making sure that particular needs of court users are met and handling any complaints.
  • Conducting legal research to clarify points of law and procedure, including use of the electronic Legal Information System (eLIS).
  • Participating in post-sitting reviews with magistrates.
  • Producing written records of court decisions as required.
  • Providing statistics to help with the efficient management of courts.
  • Delivering training to magistrates and members of court staff, e.g. group exercises, briefings and presentations.
  • Acting as a mentor to trainee legal advisers and legal advisers in training.
  • Assisting with other court administration as required.

Legal advisers must maintain good working relationships with all other people involved in court proceedings, including the prison service, probation officers and the police. They are supported by administrative assistants.

Magistrates' court legal advisers work around 37 hours a week, usually from 8.45am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. Flexible working arrangements apply, provided they are available during court sessions. Occasionally, legal advisers are required to work outside normal working hours, at weekends and on bank holidays to cover emergency legal applications and hearings. Part-time work and job sharing are possible.

Legal advisers are based in magistrates' courts. When not appearing in court, they work at a desk with computer access in the same building. They may need to travel between different courts in the same part of the country.

Formal dress is required in the courtroom and offices.

The starting salary for a trainee legal adviser is £18,775 and £27,137 for a legal adviser in training. Tier 1 legal advisers may earn up to £45,827 a year. Tier 2 legal advisers may earn up to £50,192 a year.

Legal advisers are eligible to join the Civil Service pension scheme.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Magistrates' court legal advisers are employed by Her Majesty's Court Service (HMCS). There are around 2,000 legal advisers working in over 600 magistrates' courts throughout England and Wales.

Vacancies occur fairly regularly. They are advertised in local and national newspapers, and on GOV UK website's such as www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-courts-and-tribunals-service

It may also be worth applying directly to individual magistrates' courts by sending a CV, particularly for trainee legal adviser posts.

Education and Training

There are two main entry-level posts: trainee legal adviser and legal adviser in training.

Applicants for trainee legal adviser posts must have completed the academic stage of training to become a solicitor or barrister, which requires study for one of the following qualifications:

An approved law degree (usually with a 2:1 classification or better).

A degree in any subject followed by:

  • The Common Professional Examination (CPE), or
  • The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) Fellowship of the Institute of Legal Executives.

The next stage involves completing the Legal Practice Course (LPC - for solicitors) or Bar Vocational Course (BVC - for barristers). Fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives can only apply for the LPC course.

Applicants who have gone on to complete a recognised training contract as a solicitor or pupilage as a barrister are eligible to apply as a legal adviser in training.

For more information see the job guides for solicitor, barrister and legal executive.

It may be possible to prepare for entry to a degree programme by taking an Access course or foundation degree. Existing HMCS staff can apply for scholarship funding to assist with their training costs.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Both trainee legal advisers and legal advisers in training must complete the Judicial Studies Board Legal Adviser Induction Training Programme, lasting two years. The programme covers the functions of the adult, child and family courts. It comprises supervised practice in courts, a personal development log, and observing legal advisers and court administrative staff. In addition, it includes visits to related services, such as prisons and probation offices, and a course of directed reading.

All trainees study a number of units covering legal procedures, such as issuing warrants, road traffic, penalties and sentencing, bail, fine enforcement and breach proceedings, as well as case management issues. Written assignments include case studies, case scenarios and quizzes.

Trainee advisers are expected to complete a Law Society Training contract as a solicitor, but HMCS cannot currently offer pupilage. They receive a greater degree of supervision and mentoring support than advisers in training, who are expected to manage court sittings under supervision after completing initial training.

Qualified legal advisers receive ongoing training to ensure that they are up to date with changes in the legal system.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A magistrates' court legal adviser should be:

  • Excellent at communicating complex information concisely, both verbally and in writing.
  • Self-confident, reliable and responsible.
  • Positive, patient and tactful.
  • Good at organising, problem solving and time management.
  • Able to multi-task and prioritise.
  • Able to think quickly and logically and offer objective advice.
  • Capable of working under pressure.
  • Aware of the importance of confidentiality.
  • Aware of health and safety issues within the court.
  • Good at dealing with people.
  • Able to remain detached when dealing with emotionally demanding cases.
  • Comfortable using information technology and giving presentations.

Your Long Term Prospects

Legal advisers may progress within the magistrates' court system by concentrating on the legal, educational or managerial aspects of the work.

Tier 1 legal advisers can progress to Tier 2-4 level posts, taking on regional and national responsibilities and may eventually progress to justices' clerk, working as a senior legal adviser to magistrates.

From Tier 2 upwards they are eligible for appointment as a judge. Possible specialist positions include the training of magistrates, looking after a team of magistrates' court legal advisers or managing the whole legal side of a court.

Legal advisers may apply for other legal positions and secondment's within the Civil Service, including the Crown Prosecution Service. Some decide to use their experience to develop their career as a solicitor or barrister.

Get Further Information

HM Courts & Tribunals Service
Website: www.gov.uk

Ministry of Justice,
6th Floor, Temple Court,
35 Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6WF
Tel: 0121 250 6350
Website: www.justice.gov.uk/hmcts

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