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More support needed for employed magistrates, says the MA

The MA's Young Magistrates' Network have today published a report on the issues facing employed magistrates

15 December 2021
More support needed for employed magistrates, says the MA

A new discussion paper published today by the Magistrates Association, the membership body for magistrates in England and Wales, is calling on the government to better support employed magistrates, who are otherwise at risk of turning away from the role.

The paper, from the Magistrates Association’s Young Magistrates Network reveals that there is currently no formal, co-ordinated, and centralised resource for magistrates who have difficulties balancing their employment with magisterial duties.

The network found that employed magistrates struggle to approach employer issues that arise as a result of their judicial responsibilities; they reported difficulty with knowing who to speak about balancing minimum sittings for their magisterial duties with full-time employment. The network found support from benches on such issues to be inconsistent and – at times – inadequate.

While the law states that an employer must provide magistrate employees "reasonable" time to sit, the paper suggests that this is often difficult to define in practice. The lack of formal policies in place mean that attitudes towards employees vary among employers.

The paper suggests that these issues are having an impact on younger magistrates, who are disproportionately more likely to be employed. These findings come at a time when the Ministry of Justice is making a concerted effort to recruit magistrates from a more diverse pool of candidates. As of 1 April 2021, 82% of magistrates were aged 50 and above.

While the magistracy is currently the most diverse part of the judiciary, the issues highlighted by today's report suggest that recruitment and retention of younger magistrates could be severely hampered if they go unaddressed in the long-term. 

Luke Rigg, Chair of the MA's Young Magistrates Network, said:

"Employed magistrates make a uniquely important contribution to society, as volunteers who juggle their work responsibilities with their commitments in court. Many of our members, who are under the age of 40, are disproportionately impacted by employment related issues, and our paper identifies recommendations to improve the support for them. It is vital to the future of the magistracy that we attract and retain employed magistrates, and we hope that the government takes forward our suggestions to achieve this ambition."

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