From ArticleWorld

A Magistrate is a judicial officer with restricted powers to administer and enforce law. He handles certain preliminary matters such as issuing warrants, determining bail, issuing emergency protection orders and temporarily committing people to mental institutions. He is a local member of the judiciary having only some degree of jurisdiction and administrative power especially in criminal cases.

Legal standing in different states

Status of magistrates vacillates from country to country and from common law to civil law. In common law states, magistrates generally have only a limited authority to govern and impose the law. In civil law countries a magistrate may even be a judge of a superior court.

In Australia the court of the federal magistrate was carved out of the federal court and the family court and since its inception in 1999, the federal magistrate’s court has taken over almost ¾ of the work that was earlier handled by these two courts. The state magistrate’s court on the other hand has different powers in different states varying from magistrate’s court to courts of petty sessions.

In China the office of the magistrate or the chief magistrate is very sought after and elections are acrimoniously contested. This is so because not only is the post is considered a springboard to higher office but is in itself a very important office in small localities where a magistrate is held in high regard.

In certain civil law states of Continental Europe the term magistrate may encompass both prosecutors as well as judges. Anti-corruption magistrates have gained much importance in Italy, for fighting the war against the mafia.

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. 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.

There are three tiers in the magisterial hierarchy in India - judicial magistrate first class, judicial magistrate second class and executive magistrates.

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.