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MA evidence to the Justice Select Committee

The role of the magistracy

07 June 2016
MA evidence to the Justice Select Committee

Today, National Chairman Malcolm Richardson and Deputy Chairman Sheena Jowett appeared before the Justice Select Committee to represent the MA as a part of its inquiry into the role of the magistracy. Our oral evidence follows the Association’s very well-received written submission to the Committee earlier this year. You can watch the evidence here.

Malcolm and Sheena made the powerful case for dormant legislation to be enacted to allow JPs to retain more cases in the magistrates’ court by extending sentencing jurisdiction to 12 months for a single offence. They told the Committee that over 90% of magistrates state that the greater sentencing powers provided under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 would improve efficiency when finally brought into force. Malcolm began his evidence by pointing out to MPs that the magistracy accounts for 1% of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service’s budget, dealing with 95% of all criminal cases with less than a 1% appeal rate.

Following Malcolm and Sheena’s evidence the Senior Presiding Judge, the Rt Hon Lord Justice Fulford, and the Chief Magistrate, Senior District Judge Howard Riddle, backed increased sentencing jurisdiction for magistrates. Last to appear before the Committee was Justice Minister Shailesh Vara MP. At the meeting, Mr Vara incorrectly repeated a statistic claiming that 40% of cases referred to Crown Court from the magistrates’ court were within JPs’ sentencing powers. Malcolm has written to the Chairman of the Committee, Bob Neill MP, to highlight how the MA has proven this figure to be incorrect.

The MA also made powerful representations on new roles for magistrates, problem-solving courts, magistrates’ morale, appraisals and professional development, and the diversity of the bench. The latter point included the need for greater flexibility from employers to allow a broader range of people to become magistrates.

After the meeting, Malcolm said: “We were very warmly received by the Committee. The tone from Lord Justice Fulford and Judge Riddle shows we are making considerable headway in our calls for increased sentencing jurisdiction for our members.

“However, it’s a shame that incorrect statistics about magistrates referring cases to the Crown Court when within their powers are still doing the rounds from ministers. That’s why we are setting the record straight. We’re enormously grateful to all of our members who fed their views and experiences into our evidence to the Committee. Never before has the MA had such a loud and authoritative voice in Westminster, advocating on behalf of the magistracy. We look forward to the Committee’s report.”

You can read Malcolm’s letter to the Chairman here together with our research paper into the erroneous 40% figure here.

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