A court consisting of between two and seven magistrates or a single district judge (magistrates' court) (formerly called stipendiary magistrate) exercising the jurisdiction conferred by the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 and other statutes. The principal function of magistrates' courts is to provide the forum in which all criminal prosecutions are initiated. In the case of an indictable offence or an offence triable either way for which the defendant elects trial on indictment, the court sits as examining justices to consider whether or not there is sufficient evidence to justify committing the defendant to the Crown Court. For a summary offence or an offence triable either way in which the defendant elects summary trial, the court sits as a court of summary jurisdiction, i.e. as a criminal court of trial without a jury in which justices, assisted by the clerk to the justices, decide all questions of law and fact.
Magistrates' courts also have a limited jurisdiction in civil matters relating to debt and matrimonial proceedings. Each magistrates' court sits for a petty-sessions area and its jurisdiction is generally confined to that area, although it may in some cases extend beyond. A magistrates' court may sit on any day of the year, including (if the court thinks fit) Christmas Day, Good Friday, or any Sunday, but in practice it is unusual for magistrates' courts to sit on public holidays or at weekends.