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24 October 2022
Diversity, disparity and inclusion Practicalities of being a magistrate

Earlier this year, we hosted a research workshop with a group of young magistrates as part of ongoing University of Sheffield research into the experiences of young magistrates. With analysis underway, the study's lead, Dr Xavier L'Hoiry, has given us a sneak peek of his findings.

Earlier this year, we hosted a research workshop with a group of young magistrates as part of ongoing University of Sheffield research into the experiences of young magistrates. With analysis underway, the study’s lead, Dr Xavier L’Hoiry, has given us a sneak peek of his findings.

What did you set out to explore and why?
I started from a position of thinking about the future of the magistracy and how accessible it is to younger people. The fact that magistrates tend to be older is almost taken as a given, and I wondered how that impacted younger magistrates. I was interested in better understanding their experiences, including their motivations for joining the magistracy, how they balance their magisterial duties with other commitments in their everyday lives, and their ambitions for the future—especially since this demographic could play a key role in shaping the magistracy in the next few years. So, I interviewed 23 magistrates under the age of 40.

Why did you reach out to the Magistrates’ Association to support with your study?
Firstly, I hoped that the MA—specifically its young magistrates’ network— could help me access participants. And secondly, I hoped that it would support dissemination of my findings to its members. Both these things happened, so thank you!

What were your top line findings and what do these mean for the magistracy?
There were quite a lot of findings, but perhaps the four headlines are:

  • Young magistrates are incredibly committed to and highly value their role as magistrates. They spoke about the pride of fulfilling their civic duty and highlighted the voluntary nature of it being a key draw. In this sense, many young magistrates I spoke to were enthusiastic about the ‘mission’ of being a magistrate, upholding the law and playing a critical part in the functioning of our criminal justice system.
  • Young magistrates believe the main barrier to more young people applying to become magistrates is a lack of public awareness of the magistracy. They reported that very few people—including their friends and family—understand their role and that the magistracy rarely features in public consciousness, especially in comparison to other actors in the criminal justice system. The ongoing national recruitment campaign should help remedy this; it will be interesting to see which groups apply.
  • Young magistrates feel that greater flexibility in key aspects of their role, such as sitting schedules, could make a massive difference and, importantly, would encourage them to continue being magistrates in the long term. Some participants expressed a strong desire for half-day sittings to help with balancing magisterial duties with work commitments, reduce childcare costs (for example, by not having to pay for after-school care), and foster greater flexibility in other aspects of their lives.
  • Young magistrates want the expenses and renumeration processes to be reconsidered. Claiming expenses was almost unanimously described as convoluted and inexorably slow, and several participants reported that their allowances are too low and should be revised in light of the ongoing cost of living crisis. Echoing recent MA research, interviewees were clear that every effort should be made to ensure that magistrates—particularly younger ones who may have additional costs such as childcare—are not incurring disproportionate financial losses in the course of volunteering.

What would you say to other researchers keen to collaborate with the MA?
I would encourage anyone looking to carry out research about the magistracy to get in touch with the MA. Without its support, this study would simply not have been possible. Its assistance in accessing participants was immeasurably helpful, and the opportunity to disseminate my results to MA members was invaluable in bridging the gap between conducting academic research and impacting policy and practice. I have thoroughly enjoyed speaking directly to the people impacted by my work.

Have you ever considered being a magistrate?
Not until I carried out this study! I was so impressed with the passion and the commitment that shone through in every interview I conducted. It has genuinely made me consider becoming a magistrate. Unfortunately, there are currently no vacancies in my area, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on this in the future!