MA Chairman John Bache wrote this opinion piece for Metro, which we have reproduced for you here.
We want to see people applying to join the magistracy from communities currently underrepresented
Every day, hundreds of people volunteer as magistrates, playing a vital role in the justice system and serving their local communities.
As volunteer members of the judiciary, they deal with both family and criminal cases and make important decisions for all those people who come before the courts. They make an invaluable contribution on a daily basis and it is no exaggeration to say that the justice system could not continue to function without them.
But over the next few years we will need thousands of new magistrates to replace those who are due to retire, and to ensure that the magistracy reflects the country that it serves, these recruits must come from every community.
We therefore want to encourage everyone, whatever their background, to consider whether they would be interested in becoming a magistrate.
In particular, we want to see people applying to join the magistracy from communities that are currently underrepresented.
Last year, a government-backed review carried out by the MP David Lammy highlighted areas of the justice system that needed improvement in relation to people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and one concern that he raised was the lack of diversity within the judiciary.
A lot of people don't know that you don't need a law degree to be a magistrate.
While the magistracy is already the most diverse part of the judiciary, I agree that more needs to be done.
Recruitment of new magistrates is key to improving diversity, and the first stage of recruitment is to raise awareness about the magistracy and the huge benefits of becoming a magistrate, a role that I still find immensely rewarding after nearly 30 years 'on the bench'.
At the Magistrates Association, we therefore want to make sure that there is a wider understanding of the role.
This is especially true of employers, who we want to appreciate the value of employing magistrates and releasing staff to sit in court. We are keen to explain to employers the transferable skills that someone will gain by being a magistrate, which will benefit them every day in the workplace.
An important part of raising awareness about the role of the magistrate is dispelling myths about eligibility.
For example, a lot of people don't know that you don't need a law degree to be a magistrate.
Another example, which has attracted media attention in recent days, is that having a criminal record involving a less serious offence – especially if it was committed some time ago – would not necessarily prevent you from becoming a magistrate.
Decisions on particular individuals are made on a case-by-case basis, but I hope to encourage people from all walks of life to consider applying.
In relation to the overall problems identified in the Lammy Review, the fact that there are disproportionate outcomes for people from BAME backgrounds is hugely concerning.
Responding to the Lammy Review is one of the MA's main priorities and we recognise the need to implement changes to reduce disproportionality at all stages of the criminal justice system.
Increasing overall diversity can hopefully help increase confidence and trust, but it is vital that all parties can be sure that they will be treated fairly and respectfully in court. So everyone working in the criminal justice system must work to improve the confidence and trust that people from a BAME background can have in the system.
As part of this, evidence shows that providing information about what people can expect from participating in a process can lead to increased positive perceptions about that process.
The MA believes our Magistrates In The Community programme can be a useful way of doing this. This programme enables magistrates to visit schools and community groups, giving presentations about how courts work and answering questions.
This offers an opportunity for people to learn more about the system, as well as meeting magistrates and hearing from them about what they do in court.
By improving understanding of the justice system, explaining the role of magistrates and raising awareness of the opportunity to become one, we hope to recruit a new generation of magistrates and see the magistracy continue to flourish long into the future.