Judge vs Magistrate – Difference and Comparison

Who is Judge?

A judge is a judicial officer whose primary function is listening to litigations in a court of law and pronouncing judgments. A judge can decide on a case as an individual or, at times, as a panel. When done by a panel, it is referred to as a bench of judges. The decision made by judges in most countries is based on their knowledge of the law cupped up with the evidence produced by the different sides in litigation.

Different countries or jurisdictions have different ways of appointing authorities as far as the appointment of judges is concerned. In a country like India or Kenya, for instance, the president appoints both high court and Supreme Court judges.

In most countries, a judge can control all the proceedings regarding a legal matter in a court. They also hold the power to make decisions on cases that magistrates have been unable to solve and hence brought to judges for appeal.

Judges are called arbitrators or people who can decide in a court of law. In most jurisdictions a Supreme Court judge is the most powerful judge, and their verdict in arbitration cannot be challenged or appealed.

Who is Magistrate?

The word magistrate can be traced to the French word magistrat, translated as a civil officer responsible for enforcing the law. A magistrate is mainly viewed as a civil servant with judicial powers to manage law in a specific region. Magistrates are in charge of prosecuting civil and criminal cases in a specified jurisdiction within a state. Unlike a judge, a magistrate has fewer law enforcement powers.

Magistrates operate the local courts and are tasked with many cases daily. The nature of issues they listen to may include but are not limited to adjournments and decisions on penalties in case a party pleads guilty. If they choose not to plead guilty, the magistrate is also responsible for deciding if they are guilty when they challenge the claim.

To become a magistrate, one needs to have studied law and practiced in the legal profession for a certain period. personal behavior and morals are considered before an individual is appointed to a magistrate’s office. The scope of cases that magistrates adjudicate is of a shorter and limited nature.

Difference Between Judge and Magistrate

  1. In terms of superiority, a judge is superior to a magistrate; hence a judge has more powers vested in them by the appointing authority.
  2. The complexity of a judge’s cases differs from that of a magistrate, with judges handling more complex issues.
  3. The president appoints a judge in most countries, while magistrates in some jurisdictions are appointed by the judicial commission and approved by the president.
  4. In all countries, a judge has the same job description, while a magistrate has a different job description based on their land or locality.
  5. Judges can impose death penalties, but a magistrate cannot.

Comparison Between Judge and Magistrate

Parameters of ComparisonJudgeMagistrate
Appointing AuthorityAppointed by the presidentEstablished by the judicial commission
JurisdictionAre in charge of deciding legal matters countrywide.In charge of deciding legal matters in their allocated locality within a country.
PowersMore powerfulLimited powers
VerdictCan pass a death sentenceCan’t pass a death sentence
InternationalSame job description internationallyDifferent job descriptions internationally


  1. George, Tracey E., and Albert H. Yoon. “Article I judges in an article III world: The career path of magistrate judges.” Nev. LJ 16 (2015): 823.
  2. Ipsos, M. O. R. I. “The strengths and skills of the Judiciary in the Magistrates’ Courts.” Ministry of Justice Research Series 9.11 (2011).