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25 October 2022
Diversity, disparity and inclusion

On 15 October 2022, more than 250 members came together online for our annual conference. In this blog, our Training, Learning and Development Officer reflects on the engaging discussions held as part of a breakout session led by our four diversity and inclusion networks.

Written by Janet Lallysmith, Training, Learning and Development Officer at the Magistrates’ Association

Although diversity and inclusion underpin my role, I don’t often get the chance to hear what our networks have been up to. So, I was thrilled to be able to attend a breakout session at our 2022 annual conference that brought together representatives from all four of our diversity and inclusion networks and interested members to take stock of their achievements this year and to decide how they would like to operate going forward.

How busy they’ve all been! Katherine Sirrell, Acting Chair of our young magistrates’ network, described the crucial work that magistrates under the age of 40 have done to build relationships with HM Courts & Tribunal Service and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) since their inception three years ago. They’ve met with civil servants, contributed to recruitment materials, and participated in key working groups. Building on their successful conferences, the network is working to promote the magistracy and the Magistrates’ Association (MA) as relevant to younger people.

Tom Quarton-Manuel, Coordinator of our LGBT+ network, gave a thoughtful account of the LGBT+ network’s role in acknowledging diversity in the magistracy and the wider judiciary. As well as increasing the visibility of LGBT+ magistrates by participating in social media campaigns such as LGBT History Month, it is collaborating with Magistrates in the Community coordinators to embed intersectionality into their work with the public, and to encourage people from all walks of life to join the magistracy.

David Rose, Chair of our magistrates with disabilities network, spoke about how the network and MA staff have collaborated effectively on the MOJ’s recruitment campaign and on our ongoing survey on the accessibility of magistrates’ courts. The latter will be synthesised in a report that’s due to be published in the new year.

Shereen Williams, one of our two Deputy Chairs of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic network, picked up the theme of attracting, recruiting, retaining and developing magistrates from diverse backgrounds. She described how important the maxim ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ had been to her application. Shereen had thought that being a magistrate was not for her, and it was seeing a female, Asian magistrate sitting in a local court that convinced her to apply. The network has really integrated visibility into its work. This year, its members attended local council events for International Women’s Day, appeared on BBC radio and breakfast television to emphasise the importance of benches reflecting the communities they serve, marked Stephen Lawrence Day by facilitating an information session for Home Office staff on volunteering as a magistrate, and participated in a high-profile event for schools at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Following these introductions, Jacqui MacDonald-Davis, Deputy Chair of the MA and Chair of our Black, Asian and minority ethnic network, led a lively and interesting discussion about the future of the networks—including deliberation on a proposition to reduce the number of executive positions by forming a shared committee to support the work of members. Some attendees felt this could facilitate more co-working around intersectionality, but others expressed concern that this might dilute the individuality of the networks.

I am sure that we all left the breakout with lots to think about. The quality of the discussions and commitment of the attendees made it clear that, whatever the networks decide about their constitution, they will be at the heart of the MA’s ongoing work to engage members and be a powerful voice in the decisions that affect magistrates.