Skip Main Navigation
Share this page
15 January 2024
Practicalities of being a magistrate Wider justice system

Tom Franklin, our Chief Executive, shares five highlights from the Magistrates’ Association’s 2023 conference.

MA members at the AGM

The MA’s national conference and annual general meeting (AGM) is always a highlight of our year—an opportunity to bring members together from across England and Wales to debate policy, hear from speakers and celebrate the achievement of MA volunteers through our annual awards.

Here are my key takeaways from the conference:

1. The importance of social events. Our event in Birmingham last November, had the added excitement that it was the first in-person conference since before the pandemic. I’ve been in post as chief executive for about two and a half years and have been travelling around the country visiting many branches since lockdown restrictions were lifted, but I still got to meet many people for the first time face-to-face at the conference. It was clear to me that many people present relished the opportunity to meet up with colleagues and establish new acquaintances.

The MA’s Birmingham branch did a wonderful job of hosting us, including a reception with the Lord Mayor on the night before. Many MA branches put on face-to-face events throughout the year— if you don’t currently take part, I’d urge you to do so. They’re a great way to meet colleagues in a less formal and pressured environment than the courthouse.

We’re planning to alternate between online and in-person annual conferences each year. This is partly about cost (in-person events are much more expensive) but also because we know there are many members who can’t attend in person, but can when we hold it online.

2. The speech by the Lady Chief Justice. We were delighted that the Lady Chief Justice, Baroness Carr of Walton-on-the-Hill, joined us for the conference. Being so new in post, her diary is extremely full, and it shows her commitment to the magistracy that she gave up a day to come to the MA conference. Her speech went down very well and emphasised the importance of the magistracy to the justice system. It also felt like being part of history—seeing the first woman to hold a role dating back around 800 years.

Mark Beattie, the MA’s national chair, and I have already had a meeting with the Lady Chief Justice, and her commitment and interest in the magistracy is clear. She previously chaired a judicial committee on magistrates training for four years, so comes with a good understanding of how the magistracy works.

We’ll be publishing highlights from her speech to the conference soon.

3. The coming year could be crucial for the future direction of the magistracy. We were also joined by the Senior Presiding Judge Lord Justice Andrew Edis. He outlined to conference the upcoming consultation on how the magistracy will be organised once local justice areas are abolished. 

He emphasised that the consultation would be genuine, without preconceived answers. This is something that the MA has been advocating strongly on, after the experience of previous consultations that felt more like tick-box exercises. He is clearly keen that as many magistrates as possible respond to the consultation when it is launched in the spring.

When that happens, the MA will be organising some online events to talk through the issues—we’ll share more details nearer the time.

Highlights from Lord Justice Edis’ speech will be available soon.

4. Democracy is healthy. We always say that the MA is by members, for members—and we saw that in action at the annual conference and AGM. Firstly, we had the results of the national elections for the vacancies on the board of trustees. All sitting and retired members get to cast their votes to elect trustees, who serve for a term of three years. 

We also have policy debates, and votes, at the AGM. This year, there were two motions both of which were passed. One was about the importance of youth courts, and the need for a review to find ways to maintain youth panel competences following the decline in youth court cases in some areas of the country. The other was about e-scooters, and the confusion of much of the public about the laws on where they can be ridden. The motion called on the government to launch a public education campaign on the topic.

Any member or MA branch can propose that a motion is debated at conference. If you have a burning issue to be debated, let us know.

5. The amazing work of our MA volunteers. Another highlight of conference is our national awards. These are interspersed throughout the day, and we ask guest speakers to announce the winners. It is a humbling experience hearing about the work that our volunteers do—whether that’s running branches, recruiting members, speaking in schools and community groups, or helping to inform employers. And it is rather emotional to hear from the award winners themselves. A huge congratulations to all of the worth winners, and to everyone else who was nominated. 

Want to hear from the award winners themselves? Take a look at our YouTube playlist where we’ll be sharing their videos.

Under the calm surface of the day, there was much fast paddling going on by all the people who made it happen. I’d like to finish by thanking the staff, volunteers, members, and speakers who made a memorable day happen. I’m already looking forward to our online event this year (Saturday 23 November—save the date) and being back in person in 2025.