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10 May 2023

This month we sat down with one of our members, Alison Allard, to find out more about her experience on the bench and what she does outside of volunteering as a magistrate.

How long have you been a magistrate and what motivated you to apply?
I’ve been a magistrate since 2008 and I sit on the Hertfordshire bench. I applied because I often heard elderly patients discussing feeling vulnerable and fearing going out alone to the local shops even in broad daylight—essentially ending up prisoners in their own homes—and wanted to help them (and younger members of society) regain their confidence. By helping keep the public safe, magistrates up and down the country do just that.

What do you find most rewarding about the role?
Working with energised magistrates who are passionate about the positive difference they make to our local community every day.

What do you find most challenging about the role?
Delays. Time is money, so it’s important that courts start on time. It’s frustrating for everyone involved—defendants, witnesses, legal professionals and magistrates alike—when the morning court commences later than planned, as this often has an adverse effect on magistrates’ entire sitting.

What do you think is the biggest misconception that others have about magistrates?
Apart from the public thinking that we’re paid, I think the biggest misconception is that you need to have a legal background to apply to become a magistrate.

What is your best memory from your time on the bench?
An immaculately dressed female defendant in her eighties proudly said “I most certainly did not steal confectionery from Woolworths. The loose sweets counter had a written sign stating, ‘help yourself’, so I did!”

How long have you been an member of the Magistrates’ Association (MA) and why did you join?
I’ve been a MA member since 2010 and joined because my mentor said it would help me stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the magistracy.

What do you value most about your membership?
Bite-sized information that keeps me informed, and the extensive learning and development opportunities that are offered online and in-person.

What do you feel non-member magistrates are missing out on by not being an MA member?
The vast amount of up-to-date legal information that the MA breaks down into easy-to-read summaries that are directly relevant to our court practice.

They’re also missing out on the opportunity to learn directly from different groups of people—both members and those in touch with the criminal justice system (such as female prisoners)—and to attend events/webinars on issues ranging from domestic abuse to mental health.

What do you do outside of volunteering as a magistrate?
I’ve been a nurse for 42 years and was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Nurse Award in December 2022. At a young age, my father taught me that you can have all the money in the world, but that this is worthless without your health. So, I strive to keep myself and everyone I meet as healthy as possible.

Reading and storytelling are other key passions of mine. As a nurse, I find stories a powerful tool for assisting patients and families to understand a situation and shape safe outcomes together. I also derive great pleasure in reading to my grandchildren—something I believe is vital for children’s development, growth, and inspiration.

I so enjoy reading and the magic of a new book, that earlier this year I published my first children’s book (Big Life for a Little Leaf) that explores bravery, adventures, and the importance of remembering wise teachings.

Lastly, can you tell us one fun fact about yourself?
I was once asked to write a booklet on how to stay healthy. I said it would only be four words long: eat less, walk more!