Skip Main Navigation
Share this page
20 June 2023
Diversity, disparity and inclusion Practicalities of being a magistrate Wider justice system

Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK, reflects on the shocking findings of our latest advocacy report and calls for urgent action to remedy the everyday indignities and obstacles disabled magistrates face.

A blue and white International Symbol of Access sign against a bright blue sky.

The Magistrates’ Association’s latest report, driven and supported by its network of disabled magistrates, makes for truly shocking reading. It lays bare the low priority given to disability equality by the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, the appalling inaccessibility of court buildings, and the everyday indignities and obstacles faced by disabled magistrates.

Twenty eight years after the Disability Discrimination Act, this level of disregard for disability inclusion raises critical questions for politicians and senior civil servants to answer, and justifiable demands for prompt action to be taken.

With disabled people comprising 20 per cent of the UK population (and 45 per cent of those of retirement age), putting barriers in the way of disabled people becoming magistrates is wholly unacceptable. The personal stories of disabled magistrates not being able to sit in certain courts, not being able to enter and leave court buildings through private judicial routes, having to be escorted to use toilets in the public part of the building, and not being able to use hearing loops, are a devastating indictment of the current court system.

Undoubtedly, the report’s recommendations on improving the accessibility of court buildings need to be acted on with some urgency. There should be an audit of court buildings and a planned programme of improvements. It is also vital that attention is paid to the support and reasonable adjustments that disabled magistrates need to undertake their duties. It is essential that the magistracy represents the community so it can bring a diversity of lived experience, expertise and knowledge to the court process. Prompt action is required to recruit new disabled magistrates and to retain the existing ones.

While the report touches on the challenges faced by disabled people who visit the courts, this is not its focus. However, it’s apparent that disabled defendants, witnesses or lawyers will also encounter the inaccessibility of court buildings. This includes a lack of level access, poor lighting, an absence of hearing loops and poor signage. There will also be disabled people who need support to understand the proceedings and be put at ease, regular breaks for rest or medication, papers in alternative formats or British Sign Language interpreters. Actions need to be urgently taken to address these issues.

Justice needs to be seen to be done, but the current failings leave disabled people questioning whether we are receiving the justice we deserve in the magistrates’ court.

Photo credit: © Roman Milert/