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27 February 2023
Diversity, disparity and inclusion Practicalities of being a magistrate

To mark LGBT+ history month, recently appointed LGBT+ magistrate Jason Callender shares his journey to the bench and reflects on contributing to building a more diverse magistracy.

It feels as though we are all doing this more and more lately, and this morning’s commute to work was no different. It actually got me thinking about another journey I recently started, that of realising my aspiration to be a magistrate.

Like a pothole, the outbreak of Covid-19 just as I had passed the interview process almost ended this journey completely. As if lockdowns and all of the chaos that the pandemic brought to our lives was not enough, it also took my job of 25 years and, with it, my carefully planned future. Fast forward a rather challenging year, a new job finally provided much needed stability and allowed me to continue my journey to become a magistrate.

Balancing training and work

Although the training was challenging as I work full time, juggling the many hours of study—consisting of modules and Zoom training sessions—while simultaneously getting to grips with a new job in a completely different industry was certainly worth all of the effort. The trainers and court administrative staff were massively supportive, and the modules well thought out and engaging. As I worked through the training, my confidence and ability grew rapidly.

Roleplaying decision-making

Finally came the first of three mentored observations. This involved me attending court alongside my mentor to watch magistrates in action and trying to reach my own ‘decision’ before they declared theirs. This was a really useful exercise, as I was able to imagine myself in that three-way discussion and truly experience the processing that is needed for each case. Seeing if my ‘decision’ differed from that of the bench was great practice too. You will not always reach the same conclusions, and this is where your negotiation and communication skills are important; the opinion of each magistrate on the bench—no matter how (in)experienced they may be—is as valid as that of the others.

Taking my seat on the bench

Then the day came of my first mentored sitting—my first time actively contributing to our justice system. I was so proud of myself for reaching this milestone and, as I took my seat alongside my mentor and one other magistrate, all of the reasons for joining came flooding back. I took a deep breath and began to put into practice all that I had learnt over the previous months.

As I sat listening to each case before me, I reflected on the new responsibility and position of trust I had been given upon swearing an oath “to do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will”.

Representing society

Being part of a minority group and from a non-privileged background, I had once thought that someone like me was as far removed from the bench as you could get. The bench is, however, forever evolving and, as it does, it becomes more and more representative of current society. Being able to contribute meaningfully to my local community is massively rewarding.

So, if you have the ability to really listen and rationalise, a great sense of fairness, and a desire to proudly represent and contribute to your local community then look no further than your local magistrates’ court. Yes, there may be a few potholes on the way, but the destination is so worth the journey!