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4 November 2022
Practicalities of being a magistrate Wider justice system

On 15 October 2022, Mark Beattie JP took the reins from Bev Higgs JP as our National Chair. Here he shares his vision for the year ahead.

Last month, I became the Magistrates’ Association’s (MA) new National Chair. I feel humbled and honoured to step into this role, particularly at such a momentous time for the magistracy.

Looking back on two years with our indefatigable previous National Chair, Bev Higgs JP, I realise how much the MA has transformed. It was an absolute privilege to be her Deputy Chair. We have been speaking up for magistrates at every opportunity, working hard to make sure members’ voices are heard. Under Bev’s leadership, we’ve had many achievements; most notably the raising of magistrates’ retirement age and the increase in magistrates’ sentencing powers—both of which were motions endorsed by our members at previous annual general meetings. These policy wins have set a high bar for me.

During Bev’s term, our staff team also saw great changes including the appointment of a new Chief Executive. The team is very committed and focused on delivery, and I’m happy to be working with them all.

I’ve become the MA’s National Chair at a time when there are some big issues on the horizon for our members, specifically the proposed replacement of local justice areas with a single justice area, the need for better recognition of the valuable work of magistrates, and the importance of ensuring that it does not cost to volunteer as a magistrate.

In my first year, I want to ensure that we build on the momentum generated by our latest advocacy report and follow up on the 20 recommendations it made for magistrates’ expenses regime. While a significant change may require primary legislation, we’ll meet with senior officials from the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts & Tribunals Service to discuss next steps. I highlighted this in my recent interview with The Daily Telegraph.

I also want to continue the transformation of the MA that was started under Bev. I want to see our membership numbers grow, ensure we provide the services that our members want to help them become the best magistrates they can be, and influence key decision makers in England and Wales.

If we want the MA to prosper, it is essential that we increase our membership. As we now have a much stronger membership offer, I believe we can recruit and retain more members. So, why not spread the word? There’s a small gift in it for you. Remember: we can support people at all stages of their magisterial journey, from application to retirement.

I’ve recently attended the MA’s new members webinar and I was concerned to hear that so many of my new colleagues have experienced a slow and frankly difficult recruitment and onboarding process. One mentioned that despite being trained six months ago, he hasn’t yet been able to sit due to a lack of vacancies in his area. This is not right, nor reasonable, and I will be raising this at the first meeting I have with the powers that be.

While focusing on the above, I very much look forward to working closely with our policy committees and diversity and inclusion networks. Our four committees assist our staff members in developing MA policy and steer policy research, development and implementation in their specialist areas: adultfamilyyouth and training, learning and development. They recruit annually, and anyone interested in shaping our policy should keep an eye out for vacancies.

Our diversity and inclusion networks—for LGBT+, young, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic magistrates, and magistrates with a disability—are well established now, and I want to ensure their further development in the next 12 months. They bring together magistrates from underrepresented groups to network, discuss issues specific to them, provide context to our policy positions, and inform our work.

As the MA’s new National Chair, I aim to build on the organisation’s progress to date and extend its collegiate atmosphere. I’m very lucky to have two amazing deputies, David Ford and Jacqui MacDonald-Davis, by my side. I’m really excited to be working with our members across England and Wales, so please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.