Magistrate Courts are established under section 110 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi as read with Section 33 of the Courts Act. The Courts Act provides for the structure, functions and powers of Magistrate Courts. They are presided over by professional magistrates and lay magistrates. Professional magistrates are those magistrates who are either qualified as legal practitioners or are entitled to be admitted as legal practitioners. Magistrate Courts that are presided over by professional magistrates are called Resident Magistrate Courts and they are structured at different levels.
The organizational structure of magistrates is as follows: Chief Resident Magistrates, who head the magistracy in each of the judicial regions; Principal Resident Magistrates; Senior Resident Magistrates; Resident Magistrates; First Grade Magistrates; Second Grade Magistrates; Third Grade Magistrates and Fourth Grade Magistrates. The graded magistrates are referred to as lay magistrates under the Constitution. Magistrate courts have limited jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, as prescribed by law from time to time.