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19 December 2022
Diversity, disparity and inclusion Wider justice system

Dan Putty, one of our retired members, takes stock of his 31-year-contribution to administering justice in his community.

I retired in 2018, having served as a magistrate for more than three decades. I’ve been a member of the Magistrates’ Association (MA) since I was appointed by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, in 1987. I joined to make the most of the wealth of information and training opportunities the MA provides. Looking back, I’m honoured to have had such a varied and fulfilling experience as a magistrate, and to have worked with others to deliver justice for my community.

I remember my first day in court vividly. It was a Saturday, and I was thrown in the deep end as a single justice accompanied by a legal adviser. We managed it well and at the end of the day I knew that I had dispensed justice without fear or favour—the very reason I had joined the magistracy.

I was the first minority ethnic magistrate to join the Basingstoke bench. Thankfully, most people I worked with, including advocates and probation officers, were respectful. But, I did encounter discrimination from some of my colleagues.

Since then, the magistracy has become a far more diverse and inclusive environment. However, there is still much to do to fully remove barriers to recruitment and magistrate development. I’m very pleased to see that the MA’s diversity and inclusion networks are tackling these challenges head on.

Despite working full-time for the NHS, I sat as much as I could during my 31 years on the bench—both as a winger and a presiding justice in Aldershot, Alton, Andover, Basingstoke, Portsmouth, Salisbury, Southampton, Swindon, Winchester and even the Isle of Wight! I always came to court without predetermined ideas, ensured I listened to each case attentively, made good use of our legal advisers, and enjoyed working with colleagues to reach joint verdicts in the retiring room before returning pronouncements.

Although precluded from sitting in youth courts due to my previous voluntary experience with the youth justice unit, I sat in both adult and family courts, participated in single justice cases, and undertook Crown Court appeals. The latter was particularly valuable for my development as a magistrate.

I have lots of wonderful memories from my time on the bench, many of which I will treasure forever. I’ll share just one amusing anecdote if you don’t mind? It was summer, and my eyes were streaming from hay fever. As chair, I had to give a short custodial sentence to a young man. His response? “Don’t cry your honour. I’ll be alright.”

If you’re considering applying to perform this most important of public duties, I honestly can’t recommend it enough. I’d also highly recommend that you join the MA. It supported and provided me with a community throughout my time on the bench, and it is still there for me now that I’ve retired. I attend events that it puts on just for retired magistrates like me and I thoroughly enjoy keeping up with what’s going on in the magistracy through Magistrate magazine and eNews.