EVERY court case, from drink-driving to murder, begins in a magistrates court – and you could be part of the bench giving the verdict.

Magistrates are trained volunteers who play a vital role in the justice system, dealing with most criminal cases and a significant number of family court issues.

While not legal professionals, they bring life experience and a community perspective to the courtroom from all backgrounds – backed by a legal expert who sits alongside them.

While serious cases are referred onto crown courts, magistrates can hand out fines, community service, and up to 12 months in prison.

Typical cases include motoring offences, theft, assaults and handling stolen goods, so magistrates play a key role in protecting your community.

In the family courts, magistrates also make life-changing decisions on child maintenance and may even arrange for a child who needs to be protected to be taken into care or put up for adoption.

A judiciary spokesman said: "It is a volunteering role that comes with a huge amount of responsibility, although you will have support.

"Magistrates are ordinary people. Do not be deterred by preconceived ideas about who can become a magistrate – your age, your background, your ethnicity, education and employment are not important."

The latest cohort in Cheshire and Merseyside were sworn in earlier this month, and will sit in either Chester, Warrington or Crewe Magistrates' Courts.

Cheshire Bench chairman Eric Hodgson said: “I am pleased to welcome the new magistrates joining our Bench this year of which 11 are men and 12 are women.

"Their ages range from 20 to 62 years of age and their backgrounds vary from student to chief executive.

"They have stepped forward and volunteered their time and talents to serve their communities. It is a pleasure to welcome them at the beginning of their magisterial career.”

The recruitment drive has now started again, and anyone between 18 and 65 can apply, so long as they have no convictions for serious crimes or minor offences including recent driving bans.

They must be aware of social issues, have sound judgement, be reliable and able to listen and communicate with others.

Magistrates are expected to commit a minimum of 14 days a year for five years, and employers must allow time off to serve.

Applications for Cheshire and Merseyside are accepted on an ongoing basis, with a family court deadline of September 30. See gov.uk/become-magistrate