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13 May 2024
Practicalities of being a magistrate

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May 2024), one of our deputy national chairs, Jacqui MacDonald-Davis, shares her thoughts about how magistrates can look after their mental wellbeing.

The text reads: Mental Health Awareness Week, 13-19 May 2024

It’s easy to forget that although we are magistrates, we’re only human after all and experience the same challenges of life as anyone. I’d like us to spare a few moments to consider our own mental and physical wellbeing.

Mental, physical, or financial wellbeing is personal and will mean different things to different people. Stress is a difficult reality for many magistrates, impacting us in so many ways. It can be caused by undue pressures and demands placed upon us, be it at work, at home or when sitting in court. If not addressed, stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and the worsening of our mental health, as well as absenteeism and withdrawal when sitting (that is, not engaging fully in the court process).

While we may only sit with a colleague once a month (if that), we should be mindful that behind the smile – or even the grumpy snarl – is a person who could be in emotional pain or experiencing a difficult situation. It’s not possible for all of us to be bright and cheerful all the time, despite what we’re told via social media and sometimes even by well-meaning friends. To be told, “look on the bright side” or “it could be worse” is not always helpful, especially when you’re in the thick of a tough time. It’s important that we don’t invalidate the feelings of others or suppress our own internal discomfort, even when we’re trying to help.

As magistrates, we all have a role to play to ensure that our colleagues do not feel marginalised, discriminated against (whether consciously or unconsciously) or harassed. No one should develop stress because of the way they are treated or made to feel.

It’s with this in mind that the Magistrates’ Association (MA) has established a dedicated support line, a safe telephone space that offers comfort and support for members. The line is staffed by some of the MA’s most experienced members, who have volunteered to support their colleagues.

The support line is something that members have said they’d like the MA to provide. We appreciate that many members may never need to use it, but it is reassuring to know it’s there if they ever do. While we don’t profess to offer a quick fix or that we can single-handedly resolve an issue, we will listen without judgement. We’ll also signpost members to other services, as a starting point, perhaps suggesting an appointment to speak with one’s bench chair or deputies, a member of the MA’s diversity and inclusion committee, or one’s GP, if appropriate. Sometimes though, just chatting about an issue with someone else who isn’t directly involved but who can understand what it’s like because they too are a magistrate, can be a balm when things feel overwhelming.

To access the MA’s support line, email and we’ll arrange a call-back to help you get the support you need.

In the meantime, there are several apps you can try such as the Mindfulness App and Headspace. You can also find resources on the NHS’s Every Mind Matters website:

Physical movement is important too

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is “Movement: Moving more for our mental health.” Physical health and movement are also an important contributor to good mental health. For different reasons, many of us struggle to move enough each day.

A great way to move more each day is to build some movement into your daily routines, even when in court. This could be going for a walk during the lunch break, walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift, or maybe sitting exercises while you’re in the retiring room. Whatever your age and whatever your level of mobility, it all counts!

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2023 issue of Magistrate, our members’ magazine. At the end of the blog, we’ve added some useful information about physical health.