The civil and criminal jurisdiction of Magistrates' Courts is exercised by permanent salaried Judges called Stipendiary Magistrates or more usually Magistrates. Justices of the Peace may sit as a Magistrate's Court to determine very minor criminal charges. The number of Magistrates is limited by statute to 40, there being 36 now holding office.
On the civil side, Magistrates' Courts are descended from the Resident Magistrates' Courts constituted by ordinance in 1846. Originally the jurisdiction of these Courts was confined to very small claims. Larger minor claims were determined by Courts of Requests before 1858 and, subsequently, by District Courts. These intermediate Courts gradually fell into disuse as the jurisdiction of Resident Magistrates' Courts (called Magistrates' Courts after 1893) increased. District Courts were abolished in 1925.
Magistrates' Courts have always enjoyed popularity as a speedy and inexpensive forum for determining everyday disputes. The confidence felt in them is reflected in the numerous and varied responsibilities placed on Magistrates and in the present extensive jurisdiction they possess. They may hear most civil claims up to £1,000 and actions for the recovery of land where the annual rent does not exceed £550 or the value of the land £7,000. With the agreement of the parties, a Magistrate's Court has jurisdiction whatever the amount in dispute. In exercising its jurisdiction the Court may grant the same remedies as the Supreme Court. The criminal jurisdiction of Magistrates' Courts grew out of the general jurisdiction in minor cases possessed by Justices of the Peace. It is now wide and is described in the article on Criminal Law.