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Government response to the Justice Select Committee published

Justice Select Committee's follow up report on the role of the magistracy

31 October 2019
Government response to the Justice Select Committee published

The Ministry of the Justice has published the government’s response to the Justice Select Committee’s follow-up report on the role of the magistracy.

The Justice Select Committee’s report, published in June, said that the current shortfall in the number of magistrates was ‘as frustrating as it was foreseeable’ and called for the government to take a more proactive approach to recruitment and to develop and adopt a national strategy for the magistracy.

The government’s response says that recruitment of new and diverse magistrates is the government’s ‘top priority for the magistracy’ and that their ‘objective is to achieve both an increase in overall numbers, and a more diverse magistracy’. To help achieve this, a new Magistrates Recruitment and Attraction Steering Group will be set up.

The government also addresses calls from the MA and others to enable magistrates to sit beyond the age of 70 in areas and jurisdictions where there are shortages, saying that they are ‘positively considering the implications of a change to the retirement age for all judicial office holders, including magistrates, and will consult publicly on this in due course.’

Disappointingly, however, the government say that they are ‘unable to commit’ to any extension of magistrates’ custodial sentencing powers. The judicial-led strategy for the magistracy that is currently being developed is also noted, and the response states that ‘the government does not consider that trying to replicate this existing good work would add further value.’

Commenting on the response, the MA’s National Chair, John Bache JP said:

‘We welcome the recognition in this report that more magistrates are urgently needed and support the government's commitment to recruit more, and more diverse, magistrates. To help achieve this, the planned new Magistrates Recruitment and Attraction Steering Group is welcome but it must be properly resourced if we are going to achieve what the government says is its top priority for the magistracy, the recruitment of new and diverse magistrates.

‘Being a magistrate is incredibly rewarding but people won't join if they don't know what it involves. The government needs to put time, energy and – most importantly – resources into recruiting the right people to create a modern, diverse magistracy.

'We are reassured that the government has no current plans to make further changes to Local Justice Areas. The MA recognises the value of local benches and, while mergers may be beneficial on a case-by-case basis, we have significant reservations about any proposals to create a single national bench.

‘It is disappointing that the Ministry of Justice has again rejected proposals for magistrates to have extended sentencing jurisdiction to hear cases carrying a 12-month custodial sentence for a single offence. This change would help to free up the crown court by enabling more cases to be handled by magistrates and is now long overdue. We continue to encourage the Ministry of Justice to reconsider on this issue.’

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