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Chief magistrate is a public official, executive or judicial, whose office is the highest in its class. Historically, the two different meanings of magistrate have often overlapped and refer to, as the case may be, to a major political and administrative officer (usually at a subnational or colonial level) or a judge and barrister.

Governing chief magistrates

If the jurisdiction he or she heads is considered to have statehood (sovereign or not), the official is generally its head of state and (in various degrees of authority) chief executive. However, the precise meaning depends upon the particular circumstances where it is given.

European states

Chief magistratures in antiquity include the following titles:

Chief magistratures in the feudal era (and sometimes beyond) include the following titles:

"Chief magistrate" is also used as a generic term in English for the various offices in the role of head of state of the various Swiss (confederal) cantons, with such styles as Landamman.

Colonial functions and titles

References to the U.S. presidency

References to the President of the United States as "Chief Magistrate" were common in the early years of U.S. existence, although use of the term is rare today. In 1793, George Washington described himself as his country's "Chief Magistrate" in his second inaugural address. In 1800, Alexander Hamilton wrote in a private letter to Aaron Burr, later published by Burr with his permission, that he considered John Adams "unfit for the office of Chief Magistrate." James Monroe told the 18th Congress, shortly before leaving office in a House report dated February 21, 1825, "By the duties of this office, the great interests of the nation are placed, in their most important branches, under the care of the Chief Magistrate." Abraham Lincoln referred to the President as chief magistrate in his first inaugural address in 1861. In 1908, Woodrow Wilson remarked, "Men of ordinary physique and discretion cannot be Presidents and live, if the strain cannot be somehow relieved. We shall be obliged to always be picking our chief magistrates from among wise and prudent athletes, a small class." Wilson was himself elected President four years later.

British Lord Protector

In the British Interregnum and during the existence of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, the Lord Protector was referred to as 'Chief Magistrate' in the state's two major constitutional documents: the Instrument of Government (1653) and the Humble Petition and Advice (1657).

Judicial chief magistrates

Unlike the previous section, this does not require any political autonomy for the jurisdiction, so there can be additional circumscriptions, even created solely for the administration of justice. It is not uncommon for magistratures to perform additional functions separate from litigation and arbitration, rather as a registrar or notary, but as these are not their defining core-business, they are irrelevant in the context of this article.

The Lord Mayor of London is the chief magistrate of the City of London.[1][2]

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the Chief Magistrate's Court in Colombo is the senior of the magistrate's courts in the judicial division of Colombo.[3]


In India, Chief Judicial Magistrate Courts in the districts is the senior of the magistrate courts in the judicial districts. Courts of the Chief Judicial Magistrate is the apex body of criminal judiciary in the districts.


In India, the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate is the apex body of criminal judiciary in the districts.

See also

Sources and references