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MA speaks up for members: May 2022

A round-up of our recent policy and advocacy work

18 May 2022
MA speaks up for members: May 2022

Every day the Magistrates' Association advocates on behalf of its members. Our national officers, together with our four policy committees and supported by our small staff team, cover a wide range of issues that matter most to our members and represent the organisation on external bodies. Recently, we have prioritised the following three issues:

1. Single justice area

The MA has submitted a paper to the Senior Presiding Judge (SPJ) setting out the key principles that we believe need to be considered in the move from the current local justice area (LJA) organisation of the magistracy to the single justice area arrangements as envisaged in the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. This potentially represents the biggest change to the way that the magistracy is run and organised in its six-century history, and the work on deciding the shape of the new arrangements will be led by the SPJ later this year. The MA asked the members of our four policy committees to consider the issues they believe will need to be considered in the reorganisation. Our committees (covering adult crime, youth, training and family) have around 10 members each from different types of benches, jurisdictions and geographic areas, giving a breadth of perspectives, experience and knowledge that is unparalleled. Bev Higgs, our national chair, commented:

We are very conscious that this is a once in a generation change; the importance of designing the right structures to support a healthy magistracy is difficult to overstate. We welcome the opportunity to improve on current arrangements, and are enthusiastic to contribute what we can to the process. The MA has a wealth of well-established resources that can assist with this endeavour.

2. Financial loss allowance

Next week, the MA will be meeting Sarah Jump, Magistrates Expenses Team Manager at HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), to discuss the practices and processes around the financial loss allowance (FLA) scheme for magistrates. It is about a year since the new arrangements were introduced and, at the meeting, we will raise the (good and bad) feedback that we have received from members and discuss how issues and problems can be ironed out. Tom Franklin, our CEO, commented:

As young magistrates are particularly impacted by the FLA, we'll be attending the meeting alongside Luke Rigg, the chair of our young magistrates network. Many members have expressed positive comments about the process and the helpfulness of HMCTS staff, but there are, without doubt, some issues that need sorting out.

3. Changes to the single justice procedure

Finally, we are keeping a close eye on planned changes to the way that single justice procedure (SJP) cases are handled. These changes, distributed by the Magistrates Leadership Executive (MLE) in a letter from the SPJ to all magistrates earlier this week, are part of the widespread courts reform and modernisation programme that the MA has long supported for its aims of improving the running of courts and reducing unnecessary bureaucracy. The changes announced, involving moving to a '3 magistrates:1 legal adviser' model, have been trialled at Lavender Hill and Leamington Spa. The feedback from magistrates on these trials has been positive, including that the experience was more satisfying for magistrates that a 1:1 ratio. We would encourage magistrates to give the new system a try and to book onto the training sessions that have been announced. We' will review how it is working and, of course, feedback your members' experiences to HMCTS and others. 

While the MA is supportive of the reform programme, we have consistently urged the MLE, HMCTS and the senior judiciary to manage expectations better about future developments so that new processes do not appear to come out of the blue. There may have been an oversight on this occasion. Magistrates are volunteers, with limited hours in courts, and changes need to be fully explained well ahead of implementation. Unfortunately, from our feedback from members, this announcement has felt unsettling because again it feels that changes are being done to them rather than with them. The MA will keep making the case for improved communication about changes.

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