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A United States Magistrate is a judicial officer. In common law systems a magistrate usually has restricted powers to administer and enforce law. In civil law systems a magistrate may be a judge of a superior court. In several jurisdictions, such as Australia, the term has become both Federal Magistrates and State Magistrates have jurisdiction similar to a judge. A magistrate's court may have jurisdiction in civil cases, criminal cases, or both.

A United States Magistrate Judge is selected to serve in a United States district court for a period of eight years.

Continental Europe and its former colonies

Under the civil law systems of European countries "magistrate" is a generic word which includes both prosecutors and judges (distinguished as 'standing' versus 'sitting' magistrature). But it should be noted that the legal systems of European countries are not identical, and this have some important differences in the judiciary organization.

In Italy, the prosecutors and the judges have very different roles; they have different powers and different responsibilities. But the prosecutor can become a judge and vice versa this can only happen in different stages of one's career, and never in the same trial. In Italy, Anti-corruption magistrates (they actually were, or are, public prosecutors) have in recent years played a key role in combating criminal organizations such as the Mafia.

A magistrate, in Finland, is a state-appointed local organizational officer whose responsibilities contain population information, public registers, acting as a public notary and conducting civil marriages and same-sex unions.


In Mexico a Magistrado, or magistrate, is a superior judge just under the Supreme Court Justices (Ministros de la Corte Suprema in Mexico) in the Federal Law System and the highest ranking judge of any State. They re-examine the cases seen by a judge in a second term if any of the parties does not agree with the verdict. In some special cases, there are Superior Magistrates, which review the verdicts of other magistrates in special Courts or Tribunals.

English common law tradition - United Kingdom

Magisterial powers in England and Wales are limited to summarily disposing off minor cases and imposing fines and prison sentences for not more than six months, community orders which can include curfews, electronic classification, and requirements to perform unpaid work up to 300 hours or supervision up to 3 years and or a miscellany of other options. The magistrates of England and Wales are of two kinds, lay magistrates (justices of the peace) and legal professionals (district judges). Legal professionals enjoy powers over and above their lay colleagues.

Magistrates are also responsible for conceding search warrants to the police, therefore it used to be a requisite that they live within a 15 mile radius of the area they preside over (the commission area) in case they are required 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, although, in practice, many still do.


Federal Magistrate

The Federal Magistrates' Court of Australia deals with more minor Commonwealth law subjects 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 Federal Magistrates’ Court has assumed an important 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.

State Magistrate

The State Magistrates in Australia originate from the English Magistrates. All Magistrates are salaried officers, and must be legally qualified and experienced to be eligible to be selected.

The jurisdiction of the Magistrates differs from State to State. They manage 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 containing a given individual from approaching a particular person (“intervention orders” or “apprehended violence orders”), abstract criminal subjects, the least serious indictable criminal subjects, and civil subjects where the disputed amount does not exceed AUD $40,000 to AUD $100,000 (depending on the State).

In Australia, the Magistrates have been referred to as “Your Worship”. But now the members of the magistracy are addressed as "Your Honour" in all states. This was partly to distinguish the growing role magistrates play in the administration of justice, but also to distinguish the archaic nature of "Your Worship" and the disposition for witnesses and defendants to incorrectly use "Your Honour" in any event. It is also adequate to address a magistrate simply as Sir or Madam.


There are four kinds of magistrates in India. This categorization is given in the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. It details that in each session’s district, there shall be:
  • A Chief Judicial Magistrate
  • Judicial Magistrates First Class;
  • Judicial Magistrates Second Class; and
  • Executive Magistrates
Additional Chief Judicial Magistrates are included with "Chief Judicial Magistrate" also. There is a Sub Divisional Judicial Magistrate (SDJM) in every Sub Division even though he is technically only a Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC). Judicial Magistrates can try criminal cases.

An Executive Magistrate is an official of the Executive branch (as opposed to the judicial branch) who is invested with explicit powers under both the CrPC and the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Executive Magistrate can set the bail amount for the arrested individual also can pass orders restricted persons from committing a particular act or preventing persons from entering an area. There is no explicit provision to order a "curfew" The Executive Magistrates alone are approved to use force against people. In simple language, they alone can diffuse an "unlawful assembly"; technically, the police is to aid the Executive Magistrate. They can also take the support of the Armed Forces to repress a riot.

In each Revenue District (as opposed to a Sessions District) there are the following kinds of Executive Magistrates:
  • One District Magistrate (DM)
  • One or more Additional District Magistrates (ADM)
  • One or more Subdivisional District Magistrates (SDM) and
  • Executive Magistrates
All the Executive Magistrates of the district, except the ADM, are under the control of the DM; for magisterial obligations, the ADM informs directly to the government and not to the DM.

New Zealand

In 1980, the situation of stipendiary magistrate was renamed to that of district court judge. The situation was often known simply as magistrate or the post nominal initials SM after a magistrate's name in newspapers' court informs.

In the late 1990s, a position of community magistrate was produced for district courts on a trial basis; two community magistrates were initially needed to sit to consider a case. Several 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 a few jurisdictions.

The word "magistrate" is often used (mainly in judicial opinions) as a generic term for any independent judge who is able of issuing warrants, reviewing arrests, etc. in this way it does not represent a judge with a particular office. Instead, it represents (somewhat circularly) a judge or judicial officer who is able of hearing and deciding a particular subject. That ability is defined by statute or by common law.

In the US in both the federal and the state judicial systems magistrates have powers like public civil officer or inferior judicial officer or justice of the peace.