Our branches have worked extremely hard to educate the public about the magistracy by putting on Magistrates in the Community presentations and events. From giving informal talks at colleges and community groups to coordinating mock trials with schools, our members have reached more than 145,000 people in the last four years alone. This is a huge achievement.
This month we sat down with Sarah Butters, who coordinates Magistrates in the Community in Leeds, to find out more about what motivates her and the advice she would give to first time presenters.
Can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Sarah Butters and I sit in North and West Yorkshire. I’m also the Leeds Coordinator of Magistrates in the Community.
How long have you been a Magistrates’ Association (MA) member and why did you join the organisation?
I’ve been a member of the Magistrates’ Association for 12 months. I signed up shortly after my training finished, but before I was sworn in. I joined because I wanted to be part of the wider magistrates’ community in England and Wales, and I also wanted to have a voice in the discussions about the issues facing the magistracy both today and going forward. That was really important to me.
Could you briefly tell us what Magistrates in the Community is and what it aims to achieve?
Magistrates in the Community, as the name suggests, is the community outreach [programme] of the Magistrates’ Association. We engage with schools, universities and community groups. It’s a way of letting the local community we serve know more about the work that we do within our courts. I see it as an extension of open justice. It’s taking justice out there and telling people what we do, and inviting people into the courts to explain what we do.
“I love bringing young people into our courts and answering their questions as they observe what goes on in our courts.”
Why did you decide to get involved in Magistrates in the Community and what do you enjoy most about it?
I got involved in Magistrates in the Community because it combines the skills that I’ve developed within my work outside of the magistracy with my passion for open justice. As a broadcast and print journalist, I’m very comfortable with presenting in front of an audience. More recently, I’ve worked with young people developing academic skills in university and also helped them make decisions post-school. So, I love bringing young people into our courts and answering their questions as they observe what goes on in our courts. I think it’s really interesting to see the courts from their point of view, and their questions very often help me to explore my judicial decision-making. While a day in court is the norm for us, I think seeing proceedings from a different perspective is very useful.
I also enjoy working with colleagues in a less formal setting. There is nothing quite like standing in front of a year six class and having questions fired at you with a colleague to bring you together and find something to chat about afterwards. So, I enjoy that aspect of it.
What would you say to other MA members who are considering participating in Magistrates in the Community?
I am always recruiting. I completely appreciate that we are asking people who already volunteer their time to be magistrates to volunteer more time to give to Magistrates in the Community to go into schools or to host visits in court.
I tend to say to people “Join us if you’ve got an interest, and do what you can, because as your life develops, maybe you can give more time.” And if you have an interest in it, there’s no minimum requirement as far as I’m concerned. I’d like to have you for whatever time you can give.
I also tell people it isn’t a one-way street. It’s not all about giving your time. You do develop your skills, and some of them are key skills we have as magistrates: communication, listening and judicial decision-making. It gets you to reflect on that in a different arena, and I find that very useful.
Most of all, I just tell them I enjoy it.
Do you have any advice for members who are about to give their first Magistrates in the Community presentation?
I would say: “Stop, take a breath. The audience that you’re delivering to doesn’t know as much about the magistracy as you do. So, think about that. You are the expert here.”
Secondly, you’ll always be presenting with a colleague. Because I’m a relatively new magistrate, very often I find myself presenting or hosting with a much more experienced colleague. And I learn as I go, too. Never be afraid to defer to your colleague and say, “I’m not sure about that, but I think my colleague might know more.” So, never think you are completely holding the weight of the presentation.
And third of all, enjoy it. It’s fine to say you don’t know. It’s fine to say, “Can we look that up?” But most of all, enjoy the process of presenting or helping people to observe in court.
“It’s a great way of getting to know colleagues better and extending your volunteering, and it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I would say if you enjoy sharing the information that you’ve learnt throughout your training as a magistrate and throughout your sittings as a magistrate, do consider joining your local Magistrates in the Community group. It’s a great way of getting to know colleagues better and extending your volunteering, and it’s incredibly rewarding.