There are around 85 Bench Chairs in England and Wales. Bench Chairs are elected annually by all the magistrates on their bench, and serve for a maximum of 3 consecutive years.
A Bench Chair will often, but not always, take the role of presiding justice in court: on other occasions, they will sit as a winger.
Other judicial business
Bench Chairs act as ambassadors for their Bench at judicial and civic events. They are responsible for maintaining effective relationships with members of all the agencies who support their local justice area, such as the Advisory Committee.
They are also responsible, with others, for the judicial business of their courts, including listing, through their members of bodies such as Judicial Business Groups, and their work with the Head of Legal Operations and Senior Legal Managers.
The Bench Chair is responsible for keeping the magistrates of their Bench informed on current changes to the justice system, changes to the way that the court operates, maintaining standards and dealing with pastoral matters. They also are consulted on the potential transfer of magistrates to another Bench.
Pastoral matters might include: making sure the various members feel that they are contributing to the work of the Bench; welcoming new magistrates; checking on the wellbeing of magistrates who are ill; and thanking magistrates who are retiring. Very occasionally, there are individual conduct issues to deal with.
This is covered in the main by the Magistrates in the Community group but Bench Chairs do become involved in many ways in their local communities as part of their ambassadorial role, including visits to societies, schools and faith groups.