The exact function and jurisdiction that a magistrate court has will differ greatly around the world. In most European and North American countries, including the United States, magistrate courts are lower level civil or criminal courts. Obtaining copies of magistrate court records can usually be accomplished online, by mail, or in person. Case summaries are often able to be accessed free-of-charge online; however, requests for certified copies or copies of specific documents filed in a case may require completion of a request by mail or in person and the payment of a fee.
Magistrates are often appointed by the elected or appointed judges within the court system. A magistrate has the same jurisdiction and authority that a regular judge has to hear and decide legal matters. A civil magistrate court often hears cases such as landlord-tenant disputes, small claims lawsuits, and uncontested divorce or probate matters. Criminal magistrates may handle initial hearings, set bail, and preside over preliminary matters or trials for defendants charged with misdemeanors. As a result of the variety of cases a magistrate court may hear, magistrate court records may encompass a number of different types of records.
In most court systems, the clerk of courts is responsible for maintaining the court records. Therefore, when searching for magistrate court records, the best place to start is an internet search for the clerk of courts for the system where the court is located. From the clerk of courts website, if one was located, look for a "search records" option, or something similar. Online records may generally be searched by the party's name, type of case, or case number. If the record is located online, you can frequently just print the record directly from the website.
In the event that the magistrate court records needed are not able to be found online, or if the online records are incomplete, contacting the clerk of courts directly is advisable. Although most magistrate court records are public information, detailed records or specific copies of documents may require the requester to complete an information form indicating who he or she is and why the records are being requested. In most cases, this can be done either in person or through the mail.
Certified copies of magistrate court records may be needed for a variety of reasons, including marriage or divorce, genealogical research, or to expunge a criminal record. A certified copy is a copy of a court record that has been certified with a seal and signature by the clerk as a true and accurate copy. A fee is almost always charged when a certified copy is requested.