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15 April 2022
Diversity, disparity and inclusion Practicalities of being a magistrate

To mark Ramadan, Ibrahim Ilyas shares his experiences of fasting during this holy month and reflects upon how his faith supports his work as a magistrate.

This year, Ramadan—the holiest month in the year for Muslims, during which many followers abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset—falls approximately 2 April to 1 May.

As an organisation committed to ensuring diversity and inclusion in the magistracy, we asked one of our members from Birmingham, Ibrahim Ilyas, some questions about how his faith impacts his work as a magistrate.

How long have you been volunteering as a magistrate and what motivated you to apply?
I’ve been serving as a magistrate for just over five years. I decided to apply as soon as I turned 18 as I wanted to engage in the law while making a voluntary contribution to my community. The role of  a magistrate was, therefore, a perfect way for me to achieve both at the same time. I aspire to a career as a barrister and am currently completing the Bar course with an LLM, so serving as magistrate has been very insightful in terms of learning more about the way in which the law works on a practical, day-to-day level in the magistrates’ courts.

What do you most enjoy about volunteering in this position?
I enjoy the opportunity it provides to help make fair decisions that are for the greater good – both for the defendant and for society as a whole. When it comes to young defendants, I look forward to using the evidence we hear to make decisions that will enable them to reform themselves and that hopefully provide a stimulus for living a law-abiding life.

How does your faith impact your role?
In so many ways! Islam places justice at the heart of society and the Quran clearly calls on its followers to “Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, or your parents and relatives” (04:135). This is essentially a clear Quranic endorsement of the rule of law and an instruction for us to stand unshakeably for justice when injustices occur. I always remember these principles when judging my fellow peers: justice, fairness, accountability, integrity and so many more. It is important that I remember why I am in such a position, and that is ultimately to ‘do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.’

What is Ramadan and what does it mean to you?
Ramadan is a sacred time for me to reconnect and strengthen my relationship with my Lord and to do as many good deeds as I can. It is a time to boost my faith through serving others, focusing on a greater remembrance of God, and learning more about the faith. I like to call this month a ‘spiritual quarantine’ as it is a unique opportunity to prioritise the needs of the soul over all earthly matters. There is a strong communal element to Ramadan too; breaking the fast with family members and exchanging food is all part of this holy month in which we all strive for Allah’s mercy and blessings.

How does Ramadan affect you sitting as a magistrate? 
This year, I have decided not to sit during Ramadan as I wish to prioritise my religious commitments. However, I know many of my Muslim peers will be sitting during this time and believe they will be well supported in doing so.

Do you have any advice for other magistrates who are keen to support their fasting Muslim colleagues this month?
Absolutely! Asking questions about our experiences is an excellent way of building bridges and becoming more informed about why we fast and the significance behind it. Being accommodating of colleagues’ requests—for example, for short breaks to pray or for more time to process information—is also much appreciated as fasting from dawn to sunset is not easy and it can impact upon our concentration among other bodily effects.

What would you say to other Muslims considering applying to join the magistracy?
Please consider applying. It is an excellent way of serving your community through engaging in the law as a volunteer judge, and it provides a unique opportunity to develop skills such as good judgment, decision making and leadership. Moreover, the judiciary must reflect the society it serves; so, we should absolutely have Muslim magistrates, just as we have magistrates from all other backgrounds. This is key for ensuring society trusts and has faith in the judiciary.

Any last reflections?
Serving as a magistrate has been a fantastic experience. I’ve grown so much as a person and every sitting is a chance for me to learn something new. As I am relatively new to the bench, my colleagues tend to be a lot more experienced than me and it really is a privilege to listen to their stories and insights. Young people have a lot to learn from those with such experience of life!