Findings from this survey give broad and valuable information about many aspects of magistrates’ everyday work which had not been independently and systematically described before.  The survey data provides concrete and detailed information on the everyday work of magistrates and their courts, as well as investigating the experiences and attitudes of magistrates as a professional occupational group, as part of Australian society and as judicial officers.

The National Survey of Australian Magistrates 2002 was sent to 434 magistrates throughout Australia in November 2002.  Responses were received into January 2003; 210 surveys were returned, giving a national response rate of 48.0%.  The identities of those who returned the surveys and those who did not are unknown.  However, comparing the demographic information in the surveys with the magistracy as a whole, shows that those who responded to the survey are generally representative of the population of Australian magistrates at that time in terms of jurisdiction, gender, age, length of time as a magistrate and court location.

Publications relating to this phase of the project are published:

Roach Anleu, Sharyn and Kathy Mack (2008) ‘The professionalization of Australian magistrates: Autonomy, credentials and prestige ‘ 44 Journal of Sociology 185-203.

Roach Anleu, Sharyn and Kathy Mack (2007) ‘Magistrates, magistrates courts and social change’ 29(2) Law and Policy 183-209.

Roach Anleu, Sharyn and Kathy Mack (2005) ‘Judicial appointment and the skills for judicial office’ 15 Journal of Judicial Administration 37-53.

More information about how this survey was:

 Developing the first national survey of Australian magistrates

The draft magistrates survey was circulated to a few magistrates and academic colleagues for comment.  We sought and obtained ethics approval for the pilot survey as well as the actual survey, and for all supporting documentation.  All materials stressed that participation in the survey was entirely voluntary.  It was up to each individual judge or magistrate to choose whether to respond to the survey.  These materials also stressed that information from the survey responses would be reported only in summary form. Quotes from individual responses to questions which ask for a written response would not identify individuals in any way and respondents will not be identifiable directly or indirectly by inference in any resulting presentation, publication or other communication.  The completed survey booklets containing the responses are strictly confidential; only the researchers and their assistants have access to them and they are stored in accordance with ethics guidelines promulgated by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

After revision, the survey was formally pilot tested with several magistrates of differing ages in a range of jurisdictions, including men and women, recently appointed and longer serving magistrates. This led to further refinement of the questionnaire.

Administering the first magistrates survey

With the assistance of the courts, we obtained names and court addresses of all magistrates—this information is not publicly available in several jurisdictions.  It was also necessary to decide who would be included in the survey.  The survey was sent to magistrates who sit only as coroners, or only in children’s or family courts, as most would have come from or expect to return to the general magistrates court.  Acting magistrates are relied on in several jurisdictions, on an occasional or more regular basis; these were included only if they had a relatively long term or frequently recurring appointment.

The Federal Magistrates Court (now the Federal Circuit Court) was not included in this survey.  When the survey was planned, the Federal Magistrates Court was very new and not fully constituted.  It has a substantially different jurisdiction from the state and territory courts, with a different relation to the Family and Federal Court and a different constitutional status compared with the state and territory courts. The members of this court were included in the National Survey of Australian Judges 2007.

The actual survey was printed as a booklet with a blue cover, to increase its visibility on a crowded desk.  Each survey was individually addressed and contained several supporting documents:

An introduction letter personally addressed to the magistrate from the two researchers giving information about the confidentiality of the survey responses and confirming that participation was voluntary.

  • An information sheet giving some background about the project, describing the value of the survey and reiterating issues of voluntariness and confidentiality.
  • A letter from the president of AAM, encouraging magistrates to respond.
  • A letter from the Chief Magistrate of the jurisdiction, encouraging magistrates to respond.

Strategies used to increase response rates included:

  • Personally addressed material.
  • Provision of full information about the purposes and nature of the questionnaire and the information obtained, through consultations and in the survey documents, as outlined above.
  • Expressions of support from key individuals and organisations.
  • Inclusion of pre-paid envelope for return.
  • Follow-up contact. Two letters were sent to all those sent a survey expressing thanks to those who had returned the survey and reminding those who did not of the importance and confidentiality of the survey.

Because of very strong concerns from magistrates about confidentiality of the data, the surveys did not contain any sort of tracking or identification, so that the researchers do not know the identity of those who returned the surveys and those who did not.  All completed surveys are completely anonymous.  Reminder letters were sent to all magistrates who received a survey, one about three weeks after the survey was sent, and another just at the date requested for return of surveys, indicating a final date at which surveys could be included in the results.

Responses were received into January 2003; 210 surveys were returned, giving a national response rate of 48%.  Those who responded to the first magistrates survey are generally representative of the population of Australian magistrates in terms of jurisdiction, gender, age, length of time as a magistrate and court location.

This phase of the research was supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project Grant (LP0210306) with the Association of Australian Magistrates and all Chief Magistrates and their courts as industry partners, and with support from Flinders University as the host institution.