Pluralists have all sorts of interests: fiscal, educational, charitable and municipal to cover just a few of the bases. A combination of activities is what makes a Pluralist and the main constraint I have identified is that of time rather than a lack of interest. Today I am going to talk about a role that requires a time commitment but which, for the right people, will be rewarding and fascinating in equal measure.
Magistrates, or Justices of the Peace (JPs), came into existence in 1361 thanks to Edward III’s Justice of the Peace Act. Needless to say, the role has changed somewhat over the intervening centuries, but the principle of local people giving their time to tackle local issues of law and order remains at the heart of the role. Magistrates still hear over 90% of criminal cases from start to finish and all criminal cases begin in the magistrates’ courts. Training is provided but there are no formal qualifications required to be appointed; applicants need simply be people of good sense and sound judgement.
So this is a role that may well suit people interested in learning new skills, understanding issues that affect communities and contributing to the rule of law in England and Wales. With a big recruitment drive underway this week, the Ministry of Justice is hoping to find new magistrates in almost every local justice area with a view to successful applicants being ready to start in 12 months, so now is the time to look into applying if the role sounds interesting to you.
Magistrates must commit to a minimum of 13 days per year in court, along with a few days of training per year (plus the initial 3 days of induction training in the first year), so it is important to have sufficient time available. The online rota system allows flexibility within reason and those who want to take on more sittings or responsibilities can apply to fill a variety of roles within the Bench. As a voluntary function, there is no pay but expenses are available and you are entitled to take time off work to undertake sittings.
My colleague Hatty Stafford Charles JP cane to talk to the Pluralist’s Club a while back. She says,
‘I have been a magistrate for 10 years and have loved every minute of it. I am a Presiding Justice (Chair) in adult court and I sit in Family Court, also as a Presiding Justice, so I have quite a few sittings in my diary. In addition, I mentor new JPs and am deputy chair of the committee in charge of appraisals, authorisations and training for the Family Panel. I trained as an appraiser a couple of years ago and will join the appraiser team in the next 12 months. From my first sitting as a very nervous Winger, I seem to have taken on a lot of extra responsibilities but that has been a gradual and natural process. The skills I have developed as a magistrate, such as team work, critical thinking and analysis stand me in good stead in almost every aspect of my life. The most surprising discovery is how different every day I spend in court is, even if the list seems pretty ordinary – there’s always something unusual, amusing or just plain bizarre to discover.’
For more information, visit https://www.gov.uk/become-magistrate or look at the Magistrates’ Association website (https://www.magistrates-association.org.uk/). Prior to application you should observe proceedings in a court, so that may be a good starting point to get an idea of what is involved.