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2 June 2021
Diversity, disparity and inclusion

In conversation with members of the MA's magistrates with disabilities network.

The MA’s magistrates with disabilities network was launched in August 2020 as part of our work to recognise and bring together magistrates who are also members of groups we believe to be underrepresented within both the MA and the magistracy as a whole.

For Volunteers’ Week 2021, we’re considering representation within the magistracy, and spoke to David Rose JP, chair of the magistrates with disabilities network, to learn more about his experience of volunteering as a magistrate, as well as the aims of the group. David has been a magistrate since 1994 and sits in North Essex.

How did you first hear about the opportunity to volunteer as a magistrate?

My sister-in-law, who was a solicitor, thought that I would be well-suited to the role. She suggested that I make contact with the government office who handled the recruitment process and I followed the path as it was then organised.

What is the biggest thing you have learnt since joining the magistracy?

There are always two sides to every story. Beyond that, I have learnt to listen to not only what is said, but how an answer or explanation is communicated.

How important is it the magistracy is modern and diverse?

The magistracy needs to be both modern and diverse if it is to adequately serve our communities. During my 27 years of service, I have witnessed a revolution in how we communicate and to a certain extent, the types of crime that we are tasked with judging. The diversity of our nation must be recognised by those volunteers who sit as magistrates and we must always ensure that we conduct the business of the courts as fairly as possible.

What attracted you to the magistrates with disabilities network?

I was attracted to the group because I want to promote awareness of the challenges that disabled people might face when carrying out their court duties. I am also very interested in promoting the recruitment of disabled people to join the magistracy as we are significantly underrepresented at this present time.

Can you describe what the network aims to do?

It exists to provide advice and support to disabled people who sit across all jurisdictions. We aim to highlight those areas where ‘reasonable adjustments’ are not being adequately provided and seek solutions to the problems that members of the group bring to our attention. We also intend to support and encourage the recruitment of more disabled magistrates.

What is the biggest misconception that others have about volunteering as a magistrate?

That we are paid! It is often assumed that we are remunerated every time we sit in court.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering as a magistrate?

I have always enjoyed the variety of work that we deal with. Every time you think that you have seen it all, along comes a case that is totally different to anything that you have encountered before. You have to keep your eyes, ears and mind open! I have also served with some extraordinary people and I have learnt so much from them.

How has volunteering as a magistrate changed during the pandemic?

There have been a lot of changes. The most notable is benches sitting with just two magistrates, rather than three. This can lead to problems when decisions are taken and can potentially create delays if, for example, a trial does not result in a unanimously-agreed outcome. The other major issue is having CPS prosecutors, defence counsel and probation staff participating via video links, some of which are not as reliable as we would wish.

What would you say to someone who identifies as disabled and is thinking about volunteering as a magistrate?

Being a magistrate in England and Wales is the most important volunteering role available to any individual. As a disabled person, you are likely to have encountered challenges and obstacles that provide you with a greater level of life experience than your non-disabled colleagues. This experience can, in my opinion, be transferred to the role of a lay magistrate and would enable them to meet the often challenging work we are required to deal with.